Arthur's Theme Christopher Cross
He helped to shape the sound of Motown in the 1960s, but his story is a story of family turmoil ending in tragedy.
Gaye was born as Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. in Washington, 1932. His father, Marvin Gay Sr., was a Church minister who zealously disciplined his son. Gaye began singing in Gay Sr.'s church at the age of four, accompanied by his father on the piano. However his home life consisted of brutal whippings. His domestic worker mother consoled him and encouraged his singing. Gaye described his father as "a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all powerful king".
Gaye joined many doo-wop singing groups in high school, but his relations with his abusive father grew worse as Gaye progressed through adolescence. After being kicked out of the house more than once, 17-year-old Gaye dropped out of high school and joined the US Air Force. But his problems with patriarchal authority were already in place and he quickly grew frustrated with the menial tasks he was forced to perform. To get himself out, he faked a mental illness.
After he escaped authority for the second time, Gaye sang in a vocal quartet named The Marquees around the DC area. The group achieved no real success and when they disintegrated in 1960, Gaye moved to Detroit where he performed at infamous president Berry Gordon's house. Gordy was impressed and bought Gaye's contract.
Before the release of his debut single on Motown, Gaye, who was still known as Gay at the time, began to be teased about his surname. 'Is Marvin Gay?' was the question going around Motown. To quash any rumours about his sexuality - in a still very homophobic 1960s period - and to add further distance between himself and his father, Gay added an e to his surname, and Marvin Gaye as we know him was born.
Gaye gained his first taste of success shortly after his signing in 1962 when 'That Stubborn Kinda Fellow' reached number 8 on the R&B chart. He went on to achieve much success as a duo with Tammi Terrell, with hit singles including the classic 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'. But in October 1967 tragedy struck when Terrell fell into Gaye's arms live onstage - she was rushed to hospital where she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Gaye was devastated.
'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' climbed slowly but inexorably to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1968. It went on to hit number one in several other countries and sold 4 million copies worldwide. His subsequent album went No 1 on the R&B charts. Yet his authority-resenting complex was hitting in again, as he described feeling like a puppet with strings pulled by Gordon. When Tammi Terrell died of brain cancer in 1970, he took a respite from the music industry.
After an abortive attempt to join a professional football team, Gaye returned to music in June 1970. He had witnessed police brutality at an anti-war protest which had inspired his classic protest song 'What's Going On?' yet it almost wasn't released by Gordon, who deemed its content 'too political' for radio. Gaye went on strike, forcing the song's release and it climbed to No 2 and sold two million copies worldwide. Gaye was firmly on the R&B/soul star map.
Gaye demanded full creative control over the 'What's Going On?' album and it became his first million-seller, earning him two Grammy awards for his troubles. In 1971 he signed a new $1 million deal with Motown, the highest ever for any black recording artist at the time. However, his personal life at the time was turbulent and laced with scandal. Having left wife Anna Gordy, he sought a 17-year-old lover named Janice, whom he had three children with in the midst of cocaine binges.
After drug recuperation in Belgium, Gaye bounced back onto the worldwide music scene in 1981 with 'Sexual Healing'. It became his biggest hit to date and the accompanying album 'Midnight Love' sold 6 million copies. Yet Gaye was being targeted by the IRS for tax avoidance, and ex-wife Anna. He found himself financially unstable, and eventually took out his rage on Hunter. She took the children and fled whilst Gaye lived in an abandoned bakery truck.
On April 4 1984, at around midday, Marvin Gaye intervened in an argument between his parents. Marvin Gay Sr became enraged at such subordination by his son, but Gaye Jr was no longer a weak child. The two men became embroiled in a physical altercation, with the younger Gaye Jr likely to have been the more powerful. Unable to control his rage, Gay Sr took a revolver and shot his son in the heart. Marvin Gaye was pronounced dead at hospital. On his death bed in 1998, Gay Sr would deny any memory.