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Marvin Gaye Biography: Life and Career of the Soul Singer

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born April 2nd, 1939 in Washington, D.C, Marvin Gaye combined his love of jazz with R&B in his early musical recordings. He had some early success writing for other artists as well as duetting with female singers that allowed him to release the socio-politically-charged record, "What's Going On". This led to more experimentation with his music and lyrics, where he successfully explored sensual themes on songs like "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing". In this WatchMojo.com video, we take a look at the life and career of Marvin Gaye.
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R&B and Doo-Woop Groups


Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. was born on April 2nd, 1939 in Washington, D.C. Growing up in a religious household, he started singing in church congregations. He discovered secular music in high school and joined several rhythm-and-blues and doo-wop groups.

Motown Records


His singing and piano-playing eventually got him signed to Motown Records in the early 1960s. He started as a session drummer for other artists, however his first single to be released under the name Marvin Gaye was, “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.” This was followed by his debut, called The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye. This album mixed his jazz interests with the label’s desire for R&B recordings.

First Hits


In 1962, Gaye had a minor hit with “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.” Following that was the album, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow, which spawned the singles, “Hitch Hike” and “Pride and Joy.” The next few years provided more evidence of Gaye’s hit-making abilities with the success of songs like “Baby Don’t You Do It” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).”

Duets with Mary Wells


His popularity was further cemented by his first charting album, Together, which featured duets with Mary Wells. The 1966 record, Moods of Marvin Gaye, gave him his first number-one R&B single, “I’ll Be Doggone.”

Jazz and Duets with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell


Gaye then released several jazz-inspired recordings. However, they sold poorly in comparison to his later successes, such as “It Takes Two” with Kim Weston. His duets with Tammi Terrell were also huge hits, and included “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.”

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine"


Unfortunately, the duo’s success was cut short when a brain tumor forced Terrell to stop performing. Though her illness and eventual death affected Gaye immensely, his biggest hit was yet to come in 1968 with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The tune became one of Gaye’s signature songs and a Motown landmark. It was followed by hits like “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and “That’s The Way Love Is.”

Socio-political Lyrics


In 1971, Gaye convinced Motown to release an effort that was drastically different from his previous work. Incorporating jazz and funk, What’s Going On explored social and political issues that became a trend for later soul music. The concept album generated three top ten singles. The most notable of these was the title cut, which became a pop and R&B crossover sensation.

"Let's Get It On"


The record’s success allowed Gaye to gain more creative control over his music, and this resulted in albums like the soundtrack for the film, “Trouble Man.” Another change in direction came about with 1973’s Let’s Get It On. This sexually-charged album was a massive commercial success, thanks in part to the title track’s number one success.

Duets and Other Music


Up next was a duets album with Diana Ross entitled Diana & Marvin, as well as the record, Marvin Gaye Live! which showcased Gaye’s talent as a live performer. His next solo effort was 1976’s disco-influenced I Want You, and that album found crossover success with the title cut.

Third Number-One Pop Hit


In 1977, he had his third number one pop hit with “Got to Give It Up” from the album, Live at the London Palladium. The commercially disappointing double album, Here, My Dear, was then released in 1978.

Troubled Times


By 1979, Gaye was plagued with financial troubles, drug addiction and marital issues. His last record with Motown was thus 1981’s In Our Lifetime.

Grammy-Award Winning "Midnight Love"


In 1982, Gaye’s Columbia Records comeback album was called Midnight Love. The internationally successful effort produced the worldwide hit, “Sexual Healing,” and that song won Gaye his first two Grammy Awards. He was a star once again.

Death


Nevertheless, Gaye struggled with his health, and depression was getting the best of him. He moved back into his parents’ home, however the atmosphere there was fraught with quarrelling. On April 1st, 1984, one of these arguments ultimately led to Gaye’s death after he was shot by his father.

Posthumous Releases


Several posthumous collections have been released, including 1985’s Dream of a Lifetime and Romantically Yours, as well as 1997’s Vulnerable.

Legacy


Over his career, Marvin Gaye covered almost the entire history of rhythm and blues. It is no wonder that he has been, and continues to be, one of music’s most influential artists.
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