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Marvin Gaye

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Marvin Gaye
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns

On 1st April 1984 Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father at his parent’s home in Los Angeles, California. The argument started after his parents squabbled over misplaced business documents, Gaye attempted to intervene, and was killed by his father using a gun he had given him four months before. Marvin Sr. was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped after doctors discovered Marvin Sr. had a brain tumour.

Born on April 2, 1939, in Washington, D.C., Marvin Gaye sang in his father’s church and was raised under the strict control of his father, Reverend Marvin Gay Sr. Growing up he developed a love for R&B and doo-wop that would set the foundation for his career.

Gaye had started his career as a member of the doo-wop group The Moonglows in the late 1950s. He then ventured into a solo career after the group disbanded in 1960, signing with Motown Records subsidiary, Tamla. He started off as a session drummer, and as a road drummer for The Miracles. Gaye drummed on the Marvelettes hits, “Please Mr. Postman”, Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” and was one of two drummers behind Martha and the Vandellas’ landmark hit, “Dancing in the Street”.

Following his performances with the Motortown Revue Gaye became a solo artist in his own right, having early hits with “Pride and Joy”, and the Top 30 hit, “Can I Get a Witness”. Later in the ’60s with the success of “Grapevine”, he was ranked as the label’s top-selling solo artist.

Gaye’s version has since become a landmark in pop music. In 2004, it ranked number 80 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the commemorative 50th Anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Gaye’s version was ranked as the 65th biggest song on the chart. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant value”.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was written by Whitfield and Strong, who were the Rodgers and Hammerstein/Lennon and McCartney of soul music. Whitfield co-wrote and produced so many enduring hits for various Motown artists, including “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “War”, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, and “Car Wash”. And Barrett Strong had been at the sharp end, as a former recording artist for Motown — he was the singer behind the label’s breakthrough hit, “Money (That’s What I Want)”, which has been covered by so many artists, including The Beatles.

Like the rise of rock and roll, British pop, or the hippie movement in the ’60s, the Motown sound was just as important and equally influential on music and culture.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was first released on September 25, 1967, as Soul 35039 by Gladys Knight and the Pips, who recorded the third version of the song, it has since become a signature song for Marvin Gaye, who recorded his version prior to the Pips’ but released it after theirs on October 30, 1968, as Tamla 54176.

The session featuring Gaye led to arguments between the producer and singer; Whitfield struggled to convince Gaye to perform the song in a high rasp, a move that had worked on David Ruffin during the recording of The Temptations’ hit, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. Whitfield was later described by several Motown employees as “cocky” and “arrogant” but “always got what he wanted out of the performer”. Marvin eventually agreed to record it in Whitfield’s key and the song later led to a change in the singer’s vocals.

His 1971 album What’s Going On is now considered a milestone of 1970’s soul and pop and was the first collection of protest material from a major black pop singer, and its outspokenness surprised many fans who had learned to expect danceable love songs, rather than social commentary, from the Motown label.

His recordings for Motown in the 60s and 70s shaped that label’s signature sound. His work with Motown gave him the titles ‘Prince of Soul’ and ‘Prince of Motown’. Following his death, The New York Times described Gaye as someone who “blended the soul music of the urban scene with the beat of the old-time gospel singer and became an influential force in pop music”.

Important Dates In The Life Of Marvin Gaye:

On this day in music
13 May 2023
Singer-songwriter Amy Wadge had a jury’s verdict tattooed on her arm after she and Ed Sheeran were victorious in a copyright trial over the track 'Thinking Out Loud'. Ms Wadge, who is based in Wales, co-wrote the song with Sheeran, her friend of 17 years. A court in New York ruled the pair had not copied Marvin Gaye’s 'Let’s Get It On', despite claims from heirs of Gaye's co-writer. The tattoo reads "independently created" in a typewriter font.
28 Apr 2023
Ed Sheeran sang and played guitar to a New York jury at a civil trial that would decide whether he copied Marvin Gaye's Let's Get it On. For roughly an hour, Sheeran described his entire musical career and performed parts of the song in question, 'Thinking Out Loud'. Heirs of Gaye's co-writer were claiming that he stole elements of the chart-topping hit. Sheeran also reportedly told the packed courtroom: "I'm not the world's most talented guitar player." Sheeran later won the case.
30 Sep 2022
Ed Sheeran was ordered to stand trial in the US over claims he copied his hit song 'Thinking Out Loud' from Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On'. A judge denied Sheeran's bid to dismiss the case, saying a jury should decide on the similarities between the songs. The claim was originally lodged in 2018, by investment banker David Pullman and a company called Structured Asset Sales, which had acquired a portion of the estate of 'Let's Get It On' co-writer Ed Townsend. Seeking $100m (£90m) in damages, they alleged that Sheeran and his co-writer Amy Wadge "copied and exploited, without authorisation or credit".
24 Oct 2018
American guitarist and session musician Wah Wah Watson, (Melvin Ragin) died aged 67. He was famed for his skills with a wah-wah pedal and became a member of the Motown Records studio band, The Funk Brothers, where he recorded with The Temptations (his guitar work on 'Papa Was A Rollin' Stone'), The Jackson 5, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Marvin Gaye and The Supremes. He also appeared on Michael Jackson's Off The Wall album.
23 Feb 2017
Jay Z was set to become first rapper inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame. Previous inductees include Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson. But no rapper had ever made the cut before. Jay Z would be inducted as part of the hall's class of 2017 alongside Max Martin, who has written songs for Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande.
10 Aug 2016
Ed Sheeran was being sued in America over claims that his track 'Thinking Out Loud' rips off a Marvin Gaye song. The family of the man who co-wrote 'Let's Get It On' says it copies key parts of the track. Ed Townsend's relatives were asking for a jury to decide if they're owed damages.
15 Jul 2015
A judge trimmed more than $1m (£639,000) from the damages Pharrell Williams was ordered to pay after the Blurred Lines copyright trial. The case revolved around the question of whether Williams and his co-writer Robin Thicke had copied Marvin Gaye's 1977 hit 'Got To Give It Up'. The judge also gave Gaye's family a 50% cut of future earnings from the song.
15 May 2015
R&B and jazz singer Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly died from heart failure in the US Virgin Islands, where she was visiting for a performance, she was 70 years old. Ortheia spent much of her career touring with and opening for some of Motown's biggest acts, including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Gladys Knight.
11 Mar 2015
A jury in the United States ruled that the writers of 'Blurred Lines', copied a Marvin Gaye track. Jurors in Los Angeles decided that the 2013 single by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke breached the copyright of Gaye's 1977 hit 'Got To Give It Up'. The family of the late soul singer were awarded $7.3m (£4.8m) in damages. Thicke and Williams denied copying the hit, and their lawyer said the ruling set a 'horrible precedent'.
31 Jan 2014
American businesswoman, composer and songwriter Anna Gordy Gaye died three days after her 92nd birthday. An elder sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy, she became a record executive in the mid-to-late 1950s distributing records released on Checker and Gone Records before forming the Anna label. Gordy later became known as a songwriter for several hits including the Originals' ‘Baby, I'm for Real’, and two songs on Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album. The first wife of Gaye, their turbulent marriage later served as inspiration for Gaye's album, Here, My Dear.
31 Oct 2013
Marvin Gaye's family were taking legal action against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for copyright infringement over their hit song Blurred Lines. Three of Gaye's children filed legal papers accusing them of copying elements of the song 'Got To Give It Up'. The Gaye family cited excerpts of magazine interviews given by Thicke to support their claim he had admitted to drawing on 'Got to Give it Up' when producing Blurred Lines.
2 Apr 2013
A grand piano used in the Motown Records studios was fully restored and put on display at a museum dedicated to the legendary record label in Detroit. Sir Paul McCartney helped fund the restoration of the 1877 Steinway, which was originally in Motown's Studio B.and was used to create hits for names including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Edwin Starr.
16 Jul 2012
Hungarian-American bassist, Bob Babbitt died aged 74, from brain cancer. He is most famous for his work as a member of Motown Records' studio band, the Funk Brothers, from 1966 to 1972. Babbitt's most notable bass performances include 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' by Stevie Wonder, 'War' by Edwin Starr, 'The Tears of a Clown' by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)' and 'Inner City Blues' by Marvin Gaye, 'Band Of Gold' by Freda Payne, 'Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)', and 'Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)' by The Temptations.
24 Jun 2012
Billboard.com named Olivia Newton-John's 1982 hit, 'Physical' as The Sexiest Song Of All Time. Other classic Rock songs that made the top ten were Rod Stewart's 'Tonight's The Night', Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On', Donna Summer's 'Hot Stuff' and another Rod Stewart contribution, 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy'.
30 Sep 2011
American guitarist and songwriter Marv Tarplin died aged 70. He was best known as the guitarist for the Miracles from the 1950s through the early 1970s who co-wrote several of their biggest hits, including the 1965 Grammy Hall Of Fame inducted 'The Tracks of My Tears'. Tarplin also worked with Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes and The Supremes.
3 May 2011
American jazz organist Odell Brown died age 71. He was active in the late 1960s and early 1970s, playing soul jazz and jazz funk with his backing band as Odell Brown & the Organ-Izers. Brown also co-wrote Marvin Gaye's hit single 'Sexual Healing' winning two Grammy awards and worked with Minnie Riperton, Curtis Mayfield and Johnny Nash.
24 Mar 2009
Motown drummer Uriel Jones, died aged 74 after suffering complications from a heart attack. Jones played on many Motown classics including 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' by Marvin Gaye, ‘Cloud Nine’ by the Temptations, ‘I Second That Emotion’ by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and ‘For Once In My Life’ by Stevie Wonder.
30 Oct 2008
American producer and saxophonist Mike Terry died in Detroit aged 68. Worked with Martha And The Vandellas, Jackie Wilson, Mary Wells, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Kim Weston, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers and Edwin Starr.
2 Feb 2007
US keyboardist Joe Hunter, a veteran session musician as one of the Funk Brothers who helped craft the distinctive Motown sound, died in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 79. Hunter performed with such legendary Motown acts as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Martha and the Vandellas.
2 Apr 2006
An area in Washington D.C. formally called Watts Branch Park, was officially rededicated as Marvin Gaye Park on what would have been the singer's 67th birthday. Gaye grew up in East Capitol Dwellings, at #12 60th Street, NE, near the east end of the park.
1 Jul 2005
Four Tops singer Renaldo "Obie" Benson died aged 69 in a Detroit hospital from lung cancer. He was diagnosed after having a leg amputated due to circulation problems. The Four Tops sold over 50 million records and had hits including 'Reach Out (I'll be There)' and 'I Can't Help Myself.' Benson also co-wrote 'What's Going On' which became a No.2 hit for Marvin Gaye.
3 Sep 2004
Songwriter and producer Billy Davis died in New York after a long illness. He co-wrote Jackie Wilson's, ‘Reet Petite’ and the jingle ‘I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke.’ Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Gladys Knight all recorded his songs.
26 Mar 2004
Jan Berry of Jan and Dean, died at the age of 62, after being in poor health sustained in a 1966 car crash. Had the 1963 US No.1 & UK No.26 single 'Surf City', (co written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson). At the height of their fame, Jan and Dean hosted and performed at The T.A.M.I. Show, the film also featured The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
10 Nov 2002
American Keyboard player Johnny Griffith died of a heart attack aged 66. He had been a member of the Motown records in-house Funk Brothers studio band and played on Marvin Gaye's 'Heard It Through The Grapevine', ‘I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)’ by Four Tops, and ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ by The Supremes.
28 Jan 2000
Saxophonist and bandleader Thomas 'Beans' Bowles died of prostate cancer aged 73. Played on many Motown sessions including Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On', Martha and the Vandellas' 'Heat Wave' and The Supremes 'Baby Love' and wrote the melody on Stevie Wonder's 'Fingertips Pt. 2.'
6 Oct 1998
A music industry poll was published by London Magazine 'Time Out', naming the top stars from the past 30 years. 5th place was Marvin Gaye, 4th; James Brown, 3rd; Bob Marley, 2nd; The Beatles and first place went to David Bowie
22 Jun 1996
The brother of singer Diana Ross, Arthur Ross and his wife were murdered by suffocation in the basement of their rented Detroit home. The badly decomposed bodies were discovered after neighbors complained of a foul odor coming from the house. Two men were later charged with murder and robbery. Arthur Ross had written songs for Marvin Gaye, The Miracles and Madonna.
2 Nov 1984
The Rev Marvin Gaye Sr. was sentenced to a suspended six-year sentence and probation for the manslaughter of his son, Marvin Gaye. He later died at a nursing home in 1998.
11 Aug 1984
Ray Parker JR. started a three week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with the theme from the film 'Ghostbusters'. Parker who had been a session guitarist for Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye was accused of plagiarizing the melody from Huey Lewis and the News song 'I Want a New Drug', resulting in Lewis suing Parker, the pair settled out of court in 1985.
5 Apr 1984
Marvin Gaye's funeral took place at The Forest Lawn Cemetery, Los Angeles; Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy and other Motown singers, writers and producers, attended the service.
1 Apr 1984
Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father at his parent's home in Los Angeles, California. The argument started after his parents squabbled over misplaced business documents, Gaye attempted to intervene, and was killed by his father using a gun he had given him four months before. Marvin Sr. was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped after doctors discovered Marvin Sr. had a brain tumour.
2 Aug 1983
James Jamerson died of complications stemming from cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure and pneumonia in Los Angeles, he was 47 years old. As one of The Funk Brothers he was the uncredited bassist on most of Motown Records' hits in the 1960s and early 1970s including songs by Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and The Supremes. He eventually performed on nearly 30 No.1 pop hits.
23 Jul 1983
Paul Young had his first UK No.1 single with his version of the Marvin Gaye song 'Wherever I Lay My Hat, (That's My Home.)' The song title was parodied by the UK indie band Super Furry Animals with their 1999 song 'Wherever I Lay My Phone (That's My Home)'.
25 Mar 1983
Motown Records celebrated its 25 anniversary with a concert in Pasadena, featuring; The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Jr. Walker, The Commodores, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and The Jackson 5.
7 Oct 1978
US Music magazine Billboard reported that Marvin Gaye had twice filed bankruptcy papers earlier in the year, with debts of $7 million.
25 Jun 1977
Marvin Gaye went to No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Got To Give It Up', his third US No.1.
18 Aug 1976
'Variety' reported that Marvin Gaye faced two consecutive five day prison terms in Los Angeles county jail for contempt of court after failing to pay alimony and child support.
24 Mar 1975
Paul McCartney held a party on the Queen Mary at Long Beach in California to celebrate the release of the Wings album Venus And Mars. Among the 200 guests on board were George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Marvin Gaye, The Faces and The Jackson 5. The party was the first time McCartney and Harrison had been seen in public since the Beatles break-up.
23 Mar 1974
Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross entered the UK singles chart with ‘You Are Everything’ which was originally recorded by the Philadelphia soul group The Stylistics. Released as the second UK single from the Diana & Marvin album, the song reached No.5 in the UK Singles Chart in this year.
8 Sep 1973
Marvin Gaye Gaye started a two week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Let's Get It On', his second US No.1, only reached No.31 in the UK.
15 Jun 1973
Motown Records released ‘Let's Get It On’ by Marvin Gaye. The track became Gaye's most successful single for Motown and one of his most well-known songs, with the help of the song's sexually explicit content.
24 Feb 1973
Roberta Flack had her second US No.1 when 'Killing Me Softly With His Song', started a five-week run at the top of the charts. The song was written in collaboration with singer songwriter Lori Lieberman and was born of a poem she wrote after experiencing a strong reaction to the Don McLean song 'Empty Chairs.' Roberta Flack first heard the song during a flight. She performed it for the first time live when supporting Marvin Gaye who told her she had to recorded a version before playing it live again.
21 May 1971
Marvin Gaye released his eleventh studio album What's Going On. The concept album consisting of nine songs tells the story from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing only hatred, suffering, and injustice. What's Going On is regarded as one of the landmark recordings in pop music history, and one of the greatest albums of the 20th century.
31 Oct 1970
'Motown Chartbusters Vol 4' went to No.1 on the UK album chart. The album featured tracks from The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, & Tammi Terrell, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
16 Mar 1970
Motown singer Tammi Terrell died of a brain tumour at the age of 24. She had collapsed onstage on October 14, 1967 into Marvin Gaye's arms during a concert in Hampton, Virginia. Initially Terrell recorded solo, but from 1967 onwards she recorded a series of duets with Marvin Gaye, including the 1967 US No.5 'Your Precious Love' and the 1968, ‘Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing’. Marvin Gaye reacted to her death by taking a four year hiatus from concert performance and went into self-isolation.
20 Jun 1969
The first of a three day Festival in Newport, California, featuring: Ike And Tina Turner, Marvin Gaye, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Byrds, The Rascals, Steppenwolf, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, Eric Burdon and Love. A three day ticket cost $15 (£8.80). Hendrix received $125,000 for his appearance, at the time it was the highest fee ever paid to a rock act for a single appearance.
20 Apr 1969
Session drummer Benny Benjamin died. One of 'The Funk Brothers' he played on many Tamla Motown hits including, The Four Tops, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder. The film 'Standing In The Shadows Of Motown' released in 2003 features his work. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and was named the eleventh best drummer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2016.
26 Mar 1969
Marvin Gaye was at No.1 on the UK singles chart, with 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'. The song was first recorded by The Miracles and had also been a million seller in 1967 for Gladys Knight and the Pips.
28 Dec 1968
The three day Miami Pop festival took place, the first major rock festival held on the East Coast of the US, with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Chuck Berry, The McCoys, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, The Turtles, The Box Tops, Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Pacific Gas and Electric, Procol Harum, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly and Grateful Dead.
14 Dec 1968
Marvin Gaye scored his first US No.1 single when 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' started a five-week run at the top of the charts. It was Marvin's 15th solo hit and also his first UK No.1 single in March 69. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966, the single was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles as well as Gladys Knight & the Pips.
30 Oct 1968
Marvin Gaye released 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' which became his first US No.1 single. It was Marvin's 15th solo hit and also his first UK No.1 single in March 69. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966, the single was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles as well as Gladys Knight & the Pips.
20 May 1967
The Young Rascals started a two week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Groovin', also a No.8 hit in the UK. The group named themselves after a US comedy TV show. 'Groovin' was also covered by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye.
10 Apr 1967
Marvin Gaye recorded his version of 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'. The song was first recorded by The Miracles and had also been a million seller in 1967 for Gladys Knight and the Pips.
25 Dec 1964
The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder and The Marvelettes all appeared at The Fox Theatre, Brooklyn, New York.
28 Oct 1964
The first of two nights billed as the 'Tami Show' took place at the Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica with; Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and The Rolling Stones.
12 Sep 1964
The Supremes, The Shangri-La's, Marvin Gaye, Dusty Springfield, The Ronettes, Millie Small, The Temptations, The Miracles and Little Anthony and the Imperials all appeared at The Fox Theatre, Brooklyn, New York.
19 Jun 1964
Martha and the Vandellas recored one of Motown's signature songs 'Dancing in the Street' at Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit, Michigan. Written by Marvin Gaye, William "Mickey" Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter the song reached No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No.4 in the UK. Many artists have covered the song including, the Mamas & the Papas, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, The Kinks, Grateful Dead and Little Richard.
22 Jun 1963
13-year old Stevie Wonder first entered the US singles chart as Little Stevie Wonder with 'Fingertips Parts One and Two.' 'Fingertips' which featured a young Marvin Gaye on drums was the first live, non-studio recording to reach No.1 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart in the United States since Johnny Standley's 1952 comic monologue 'It's in the Book'.
16 Oct 1962
The first night of a two month Motown Records package tour started in Washington DC, featuring Marvin Gaye The Supremes, Mary Wells, The Miracles and 12 year old Stevie Wonder.
16 Aug 1962
Little Stevie Wonder (aged 12), released his first single, 'I Call It Pretty Music, (But The Old People Call It The Blues)', the single featured Marvin Gaye on drums.
11 Dec 1961
The Marvelettes went to No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Please Mr Postman'. The session musicians on the track included 22 year old Marvin Gaye on drums. The song gave The Carpenters a US No.1 and UK No.2 single in 1975.
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