Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939 — April 1, 1984) was an American R&B vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Washington, D.C., who was musically active for a quarter-century, achieving worldwide renown as one of Tamla/Motown’s leading performers. He first rose to fame with a string of duets, first with Kim Weston and then with Tammi Terrell, his singing partner between 1967 and 1970. Staying with the label after the loss of his partner, he exerted greater artistic control with his 1971 release What’s Going On, his first in a series of soul-funk albums over the subsequent decade.
Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 1939. He grew up in the city’s rundown housing projects with his three siblings. His father, Marvin Gay Sr., was a church minister who beat his son regularly.
Gay started singing in church choirs at age four. As a teen, he became the leading voice in the Randall Junior High Glee Club. In high school, he joined several doo-wop vocal groups, including the Dippers and the D.C. Tones. To escape his contentious home life, he dropped out of school at age 17 and enlisted in the Army for a brief stint.
In 1957, Gay joined The Marquees, a D.C. doo wop group under the auspices of Bo Diddley. Their one single, “Hey Little School Girl” (b/w “Wyatt Earp”), appeared that year on Okeh with Diddley on guitar and Gay singing baritone. They were then hired by singer Harvey Fuqua as replacements for his crumbling act The Moonglows. As the New Moonglows, they cut six sides on Chess, including “Mama Loochie,” the first recording of Gay on lead vocals. They also worked as session vocalists for Chuck Berry on the songs “Back in the U.S.A.” and “Almost Grown.”
In 1960, Gay moved to Detroit, where he worked as a session drummer for Tri-Phi Records. That Christmas, he performed at Motown founder Berry Gordy’s house. Impressed with Gay’s singing, Gordy signed him to Motown subsidiary Tamla. To avoid innuendo and distance himself from his father, Gay added an e to his surname.
- The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye (1961)
- That Stubborn Kinda’ Fellow (1963)
- When I’m Alone I Cry (1964)
- How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You (1965)
- Moods of Marvin Gaye (1966)
- United (1967 • Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell)
- You’re All I Need (1968 • Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell)
- In the Groove (1968)
- M.P.G. (1969)
- Easy (1969 • Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell)
- That’s the Way Love Is (1969)
- What’s Going On (1971)
- Trouble Man (OST, 1972)
- Let’s Get It On (1973)
- Diana & Marvin (1973 • Diana & Marvin)
- I Want You (1976)
- Here, My Dear (1978)
- In Our Lifetime (1981)
- Midnight Love (1982)
- Dream of a Lifetime (1985)
- Vulnerable [archival] (1997)
- You’re the Man (2019, recorded 1972)
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