Marvin Gaye in 1973
|Birth name||Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr.|
|Born|| April 2, 1939|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Died||April 1, 1984 (aged 44)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Genres||R&B, soul, funk|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, musician, producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, keyboards, drums, percussion, synthesizers|
|Associated acts||Harvey Fuqua |
Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984), born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr., was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Gaye helped to shape the sound of Motown Records in the 1960s with a string of hits including "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and duet recordings with Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell, later earning the titles, "Prince of Motown" and "Prince of Soul". During the 1970s, Gaye recorded the concept albums What's Going On and Let's Get It On and became among the first artists in Motown to break away from the reins of its production company. Gaye's later recordings influenced several R&B subgenres such as quiet storm and neo-soul. Following a period in Europe under a tax exile in the early 1980s, Gaye released the 1982 Grammy Award-winning hit, "Sexual Healing" and the Midnight Love album. Since his death in 1984, Gaye has been posthumously honored by many institutions including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
 Life and career
 Early life
Gaye was born in Washington, D.C. to minister Marvin Gay, Sr., and domestic worker Alberta Gay. Gaye first grew up at a house located at 1617 First Street SW, only a few blocks from the Anacostia River. The First Street neighborhood was nicknamed "Simple City" due to it being "half-city, half country". When Gaye was in his teens, the family relocated to the Deanwood section of northeastern D.C. Gaye had five siblings, including sisters Jeanne and Zeola and brothers Michael Cooper, Frankie Gaye and Antwaun Gay. Michael Cooper was from his mother's previous relationship while Antwaun was born from one of his father's extramarital affairs.
Gaye began singing in church at four and was accompanied by his father on piano. Growing up, the Gay family were part of a Pentecostal church sect known as the House of God. The House of God took its teachings from Hebrew Pentecostalism, advocated strict conduct and adhered to both the Old and New Testaments. Gaye developed a love of singing at an early age and was encouraged to pursue a professional music career after a performance at a school play. Gaye's home life consisted of "brutal whippings" at the hands of his father, who struck him for any shortcoming. The younger Marvin described living under his father's house was similar to "living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all powerful king." He further stated that had his mother not encouraged his singing, he would've been a child suicide case. His sister later explained that Marvin was beaten often from age seven well into his teenage years.
Marvin attended Cardozo High School and joined several doo-wop vocal groups, including the Dippers and the D.C. Tones. The younger Marvin's relationship with his father worsened during his teenage years as his father would kick him out of the house for what he perceived was misbehavior. Following an argument in which he stood up against his father, the younger Marvin walked out of the house for good and dropped out of high school. With dreams of being a flyer, 17-year-old Marvin enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Basic Airman. Disappointed in having to perform menial tasks, he faked mental illness and was discharged shortly afterwards. Gaye's sergeant stated that Marvin refused to follow orders.
 Early career
Following his return to D.C., Marvin and a best friend, Reese Palmer, formed the vocal quartet, the Marquees. Shortly after performing in the D.C. area, the group began working with musician Bo Diddley, who assigned the group to Columbia subsidiary OKeh Records after failure to get the group signed to his own label, Chess. The Marquees released two singles with OKeh, including "Wyatt Earp", which failed to chart. During this early period, he began composing songs, penning his first song, "Barbara". Gaye briefly worked as a dishwasher, a job Gaye found demeaning. Harvey Fuqua, co-founder of The Moonglows, signed the Marquees on as his employees. Under Fuqua's direction, the group changed their name to Harvey and the Moonglows, relocating them to Chicago.
The group recorded several sides for Chess in 1959 including the song "Mama Loochie", which was Marvin's first lead vocal recording. The group found work as session singers for Chess acts including Chuck Berry, singing on Berry's hits "Back in the U.S.A." and "Almost Grown". After the group disbanded in 1960, Marvin moved with Fuqua to Detroit where Fuqua began working with songwriter Gwen Gordy, doing work for Gordy's label, Anna Records. Gaye worked with Anna Records on a variety of jobs including janitor and record stockpiler, as David Ruffin would later explain in an interview. During the 1960 Christmas holiday season, Marvin performed at Motown CEO Berry Gordy's house. Impressed by the singer, he sought Fuqua on his contract with Gaye. Fuqua agreed to sell part of his interest in his contract with Gaye, giving up 50% interest to Gordy. Shortly afterwards, Gaye signed with the Motown subsidiary, Tamla Records.
 Early recordings and initial success
Marvin initially settled on session work during his early Motown years, playing drums on earlier Tamla recordings for The Marvelettes, The Miracles and Little Stevie Wonder. He also played drums on sessions with The Spinners, who recorded for Fuqua's Tri-Phi label. Initially, Marvin wanted to pursue a career as a performer of jazz music and standards, having no desire to become an R&B performer. Inspired by Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, Gaye said he didn't wanna resort to "shaking ass" onstage and rather sit on a stool and croon. According to David Ritz, Marvin was teased about his surname, with some people asking jokingly, "Is Marvin Gay?". Eventually he and Motown added an "e" to his surname prior to the release of his first single and album. The move was to silent rumors of his sexuality and to add further distancing from his father and his namesake. Following this, Gaye released his first album, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, in June 1961. The album failed to chart, as did his first single, "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide".
Following these failures, Gaye spent most of the rest of 1961 being paid $5 (US$38 in 2013 dollars) a week playing drums for the Miracles and blues artist Jimmy Reed. Later on, Gaye would refuse to attend grooming school courses at the John Roberts Powers School for Social Grace in Detroit due to his unwillingness to comply with its orders, though he would eventually agree to one order to perform with his eyes open, being accused to appear as if he was sleeping.
In 1962, Gaye co-wrote the Marvelettes' hit "Beechwood 4-5789". That same year, Gaye's first charted hit came that September with "Stubborn Kind of Fellow", which became a top ten R&B hit. His first top 40 hit came at the end of the year with "Hitch Hike". These early hits were followed by "Pride and Joy", "Can I Get a Witness" and "You Are a Wonderful One". In 1964, Gaye began recording duets with Mary Wells, releasing the charted album, Together, which included the hit ballad "Once Upon a Time". In the same year, Gaye contributed background vocals, drums and composition to Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street". Gaye's success expanded the following year with the top ten singles "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar", the latter two becoming his first number-one R&B singles. In late 1966, Gaye had another hit duet, this time with Kim Weston, on the song, "It Takes Two".
 Success with Tammi Terrell and I Heard It Through the Grapevine
In 1967, Gaye began working with singer Tammi Terrell. The duo's hits included "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By" and most of these hits were composed by Ashford & Simpson. In October of the year, Terrell collapsed in Gaye's arms during a performance in Farmville, Virginia. Terrell was subsequently rushed to Farmville's Southside Community Hospital, where doctors discovered she had a malignant tumor in her brain.
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The cancer ended Terrell's career as a live performer though she continued to record music under careful supervision. Terrell's illness later led to problems with continuing to record following her repeated operations to remove the tumor. Gaye was reportedly devastated by Terrell's sickness and became disillusioned from the record business. In October 1968, Gaye's recording of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was released and became Gaye's first to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and also reached the top of the charts in other countries, selling well over four million copies. However, Gaye felt the success was something he "didn't deserve" and that he "felt like a puppet -- Berry's puppet, Anna's puppet..." Gaye followed it with songs such as "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" and "That's the Way Love Is", which reached the top-ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. That year, his album, M.P.G., became his first number-one R&B album. Gaye produced and co-wrote two hits for The Originals including "Baby I'm For Real" and "The Bells".
On March 16, 1970, Tammi Terrell succumbed from brain cancer. Gaye wept at her funeral. Following this, Gaye went into a prolonged seclusion from the music business. After a period of depression, Gaye sought out a position on a professional football team, the Detroit Lions, where he later befriended Mel Farr and Lem Barney. It was eventually decided that Gaye wouldn't be allowed to try out due to fears of possible injuries that could've affected his music career.
 What's Going On and subsequent success
On June 10, 1970, Gaye returned to Hitsville U.S.A. where he recorded his new composition, "What's Going On", inspired by an idea from Renaldo "Obie" Benson of the Four Tops after he witnessed an act of police brutality at an anti-war rally in Berkeley. Gaye later played the finished song to Berry Gordy, who refused its release due to his thoughts of the song being "too political" for radio at the time. Gaye responded by going on strike from the studio until Motown released the song. It was eventually released in January 1971 and quickly shot to number-one on the R&B charts within a month staying there for five weeks, also reaching number-two on the Billboard pop chart and the Record World chart, and number-one on Cashbox's pop chart for a week, selling over two million copies.
Emboldened by its success, Gaye spent ten days recording the What's Going On album after Gordy gave him an ultimatum of completing the album by the end of that March. Though the album's subject matter again led to Gordy advising to Gaye of its potential of damaging his core fan base, Motown issued the album that May after Gaye remixed the album in Hollywood. The album became Gaye's first million-selling album and featured two more top ten singles, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues". The album became one of Motown's first autonomous works, without the help of Motown's staff producers. Its themes and segue flow brought the concept album format to rhythm and blues. The album was later hailed as "the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices". Gaye won several music industry awards following the album's success including Billboard's Trendsetter of the Year while Rolling Stone named it the "Album of the Year". He won several NAACP Image Awards including Producer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year while the album won Album of the Year. The "What's Going On" song was nominated for two Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Following a couple of performances, one at the Kennedy Center in his native Washington, and for a non-profit organization dedicated to end the plight of urban poverty, Gaye signed a $1 million (US$5,488,465 in 2013 dollars) new deal with Motown, making it the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist at the time. Gaye first responded to the new contract with the soundtrack and subsequent score, Trouble Man, released in late 1972.
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The following year, Gaye released the Let's Get It On album. Its title track became Gaye's second number-one single on the Billboard pop chart. The album subsequently stayed on the charts for two years and sold over three million copies. The album was later hailed as "a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy." Other singles from the album included "Come Get to This", which recalled Gaye's early Motown soul sound of the previous decade, while the suggestive "You Sure Love to Ball" reached modest success but was kept from being promoted by Motown due to its sexually explicit nature. Despite his promise not to tour following Tammi Terrell's death, due to pressure from fans and Motown, Gaye agreed to his first tour in four years, starting off at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on January 4, 1974. The concert was later recorded for the live album, Marvin Gaye Live!. The strong reaction to the live version of "Distant Lover", an album track from Let's Get It On, prompted Motown to remix the song and release it as a single in 1974 to keep up the demand for Marvin product. Marvin's final duet project, Diana & Marvin, with Diana Ross, garnered international success.
The tour helped to increase Gaye's reputation as a live performer. For a time, he was earning $10,000 a night (US$46,552 in 2013 dollars) for performances. Gaye continued to tour into 1975 following Gaye's success in sold-out concert dates. A renewed contract with Motown that year allowed the musician to build his own custom-made recording studio. In October 1975, Gaye gave a performance at a UNESCO benefit concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall to support UNESCO's African literacy drive, resulting in him being commended at the United Nations by then-Ambassador of Ghana Shirley Temple Black and Kurt Waldheim. Gaye's next studio album, I Want You, followed in 1976 with the title track becoming a number-one R&B hit. That summer, Gaye embarked on his first European tour in a decade, starting off in England, where he recorded a concert tour at the London Palladium, resulting in the release of Live at the London Palladium, released in 1977. The album's sole studio song, "Got to Give It Up", became a number-one hit. Live at the London Palladium eventually sold over two million copies in 1977.
 Final recordings with Motown and European exile
In December 1978, Gaye issued Here, My Dear, inspired by the fallout of his first marriage to Anna Gordy. Recorded as an intent for Gaye to remit a portion of its royalties to her to receive alimony payments, it flopped on the charts. During that period, Gaye developed a serious dependence and addiction to cocaine and was dealing with several financial issues with the IRS. These issues led for him to move to Maui, where he struggled to record a disco album. In 1980, Gaye went on a European tour. By the time the tour stopped, the singer relocated to London where he feared imprisonment for failure to pay back taxes, which had now reached upwards to $4.5 million.(US$12,538,570 in 2013 dollars)
Gaye then reworked Love Man from its original disco concept to another personal album invoking religion and the possible end time from a chapter in the Book of Revelation. Titling the album, In Our Lifetime?, Gaye provided work on the album for much of 1980 in London studios such as Air and Odyssey Studios. In the fall of that year, a master tape of a rough draft of the album was stolen from one of Gaye's traveling musicians, Frank Blair, who took the master tape to Motown's Hollywood headquarters. Motown remixed the album and issued it on January 15, 1981. When Gaye learned of its release, Gaye accused Motown of editing and remixing the album without his consent, allowing the issue of an unfinished production ("Far Cry"), altering the album art of his request and removing the album title's question mark, muting its irony. He also accused the label of rush-releasing the album, comparing his unfinished album to an unfinished Picasso painting. Gaye then promised not to record any more music for Motown.
On February 14, 1981, under the advice of music promoter Freddy Couseart, Gaye relocated to Couseart's apartment in Ostend, Belgium. While there, Gaye shied away from heavy drug use and began exercising and attending a local Ostend church, regaining personal confidence. Following several months of recovery, Gaye sought a comeback onstage, starting the short-lived Heavy Love Affair tour in England and Ostend between June and July 1981. Gaye's personal attorney Curtis Shaw would later describe Gaye's Ostend period as "the best thing that ever happened to Marvin". When word got around that Gaye was planning a musical comeback and an exit from Motown, CBS Urban president Larkin Arnold eventually was able to convince Gaye to sign with CBS. On March 23, 1982, Motown and CBS Records negotiated for Gaye to be released from Motown. The details of the contract were kept from being revealed due to a possible negative effect on the singer's settlement to creditors from the IRS.
 Midnight Love and final performances
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"Sexual Healing" was written by Gaye alongside Odell Brown and David Ritz. Ritz said Gaye advised him to write a poem after telling the singer he needed "sexual healing" while living in Europe. The song became an international hit after its release in 1982.
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Assigned to CBS' Columbia subsidiary, Gaye worked on his first post-Motown album titled Midnight Love. The first single, "Sexual Healing", was released on September 30, 1982, and became a huge hit, reaching number-one on the R&B chart, where it stayed for ten weeks. The success later translated to the top ten on the pop chart in January 1983, while the record reached international success, reaching the top spot in New Zealand and Canada and reaching the top-10 in the United Kingdom, later selling over two million copies, becoming Gaye's most successful single to date. The video for the song was shot at Ostend's Casino-Kursaal. "Sexual Healing" won Gaye his first two Grammy Awards including Best Male Vocal Performance, in February 1983, and also won Gaye an American Music Award in the soul/R&B category. It was called by People magazine "America's hottest musical turn-on since Olivia Newton John demanded we get "Physical". Midnight Love was released to stores a day after the single's release and was as successful as the single, peaking at the top ten of the Billboard 200 and becoming Gaye's eighth number-one album on the Top Soul LPs chart, eventually selling over six million copies worldwide, three million alone in the United States.
NME – December 1982
“ I don't make records for pleasure. I did when I was a younger artist, but I don't today. I record so that I can feed people what they need, what they feel. Hopefully, I record so that I can help someone overcome a bad time. ”
On February 13, 1983, Gaye performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the NBA All-Star Game, held at The Forum in Inglewood, California, accompanied by Gordon Banks who played the studio tape from stands. The following month, Gaye performed at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special. This and a May appearance on Soul Train, his third appearance overall on the show, became Gaye's final television performances. Gaye embarked on his final concert tour, titled the Sexual Healing Tour, on April 18, 1983 in San Diego, California. The tour ended on August 14, 1983 at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California but was plagued by cocaine-triggered paranoia and illness. Following the concert's end, he retreated to his parents' house in Los Angeles. In early 1984, Midnight Love was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, his fourteenth and final nomination.
At around 11:38 am on April 1, 1984, as Gaye was seated on his bed talking to his mother, Alberta, Gaye's father shot at Gaye twice. The first shot, which entered the right side of Gaye's chest, was fatal, having perforated his vital organs. The shooting occurred after Gaye and his parents were involved in an argument over misplaced business documents, which had gone on constantly for several days. Gaye was taken to the emergency room of the California Hospital Medical Center and was pronounced dead on arrival at 1:01 pm. Gaye died a day before turning 45. It was revealed during Marvin Gaye Sr.'s court case that the gun was given to him by his son as a Christmas present.
Gaye's funeral was attended by over 10,000 mourners at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Following the funeral, Gaye was cremated and part of his ashes were spread near the Pacific Ocean. Gaye did not leave behind a will or an insurance policy at the time of his death. Gaye's father pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge after agreeing to a plea bargain in the case. He later died of pneumonia in 1998. Since Gaye's death, fans of the singer have crowded around Gaye's final residence where he was murdered to hold vigils on the day of his birth.
 Personal life
Gaye lost his virginity to a prostitute shortly after entering the United States Air Force. Gaye described the experience as "freaky". It also started his "obsessive interest in what he liked to call 'love for sale'." Later he said that he saw "a world of pure sex where people turned off their minds and fed their lusts, no questions asked. The concept sickened me, but I also found it exciting."
Gaye met his first wife, Anna Gordy, in 1960; they began dating less than a year later. They married in June 1964. The couple adopted a boy born on November 17, 1965 by Anna's niece Denise, naming him after his adopted father. In later years, it was revealed that the elder Gordy women could no longer naturally conceive and that Denise Gordy had agreed to help her aunt and in-law establish a family. Marvin and Anna's marriage was turbulent throughout its duration and often included infidelities committed by both. They divorced in 1977 following a contentious period in divorce court that later inspired the Here, My Dear album. Despite their troubled marriage, Marvin and Anna reconciled as friends until Gaye's death.
Gaye met his second wife, Janis Hunter, in March 1973, while recording for the Let's Get It On album. He later dedicated his 1976 LP, I Want You, to Hunter. According to Michael Eric Dyson, in his book about Gaye, Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye, he stated that I Want You was "unmistakably a work of romantic and erotic tribute" to Hunter and that the singer's obsession with Hunter was "nearly palpable in the sensual textures that are the album's aural and lyrical signature". Dyson further stated because their relationship was "relentlessly passionate and emotionally rough-hewn" that they "played up each other strengths, and played off each other's weaknesses." The couple had two children together, daughter Nona (born September 4, 1974) and son Frankie (born November 16, 1975). Following the finalizing of Marvin's earlier marriage, he and Janis married in October 1977. Troubled by drug abuse and infidelities, they divorced in February 1981.
While separated from Janis Gaye, Marvin dated Dutch-based model Eugenie Vis. Following that relationship, Marvin was involved with British socialite Lady Edith Foxwell. GQ later printed a story by author Bernard J. Taylor in which he was quoted saying that Foxwell told him that the relationship between her and Gaye was serious to the point the couple were discussing marriage. Gaye's last girlfriend was an Englishwoman named Deborah Decker. Following his death, Decker told Parade magazine that she had carried Gaye's unborn child and that she lived with Gaye at his parents' house until family resentment caused Gaye to move her to an apartment in West Hollywood. Decker later miscarried their child. Gaye is the grandfather of Marvin IV (born April 1, 1995), Nolan Pentz (born June 1997), and Dylan (born May 2000).
 Bouts with depression and cocaine abuse
Gaye struggled with depression for years. One night, during the late 1960s, Gaye attempted suicide with a handgun presumably from a bad acid trip, and was stopped from this attempt by Berry Gordy's father. In 1979, Gaye attempted suicide a second time by ingesting an ounce of cocaine while in Hawaii, later stating, "I just wanted to be left alone and blow my brains on high-octane toot. It would be a slow but relatively pleasant death, certainly less messy than a gun." Gaye would tell an interviewer in 1983 that during his exile that he was a "manic depressive, I was at my lowest ebb. I really didn't feel like I was loved. Because I didn't feel love, I felt useless." Gaye's sister Jeanne claimed four days before his death, Gaye had attempted suicide by jumping out of a speeding car, though he only suffered bruises. Both Jeanne and brother Frankie believed Marvin was serious about ending his life.
Gaye was introduced to cocaine in the late 1960s. Gaye often used cocaine by either rubbing it on his gums or eating it because he had a hard time snorting. By the late 1970s, it had become an addiction. Following his attempted suicide by ingesting a full ounce of cocaine in 1979, Gaye turned to freebasing. Gaye's addiction subsided after moving to Belgium in 1981, under the advice of concert promoter Freddy Cousaert. He remained sober until his return to the United States in late 1982. During his final concert tour, a despondent Gaye developed cocaine-triggered paranoia in which he felt he was being watched and that someone wanted to kill him.
Growing up, as a child, Gaye's main influence was that of his minister father, something he would later acknowledge to biographer David Ritz and also in interviews he gave, often mentioning that his father's sermons left a big impression on him. His first major musical influences came in the form of doo-wop groups such as The Moonglows and The Capris. Gaye's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame page lists the Capris' song, "God Only Knows" as "critical to his musical awakening". Of the Capris' song, Gaye said "It fell from the heavens and hit me between the eyes. So much soul, so much hurt. I related to the story, to the way that no one except the Lord really can read the heart of lonely kids in love." Gaye's main musical influences were Rudy West of The Five Keys, Clyde McPhatter, Ray Charles and Little Willie John. Gaye considered Frank Sinatra to be a real major influence in what he wanted to be. He also was influenced by the vocal styles of Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole.
Later on as his Motown career developed, Gaye would seek inspiration in fellow label mates such as David Ruffin of The Temptations and Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops as their grittier voices led to Gaye and his producer seeking a similar sound in recordings such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "That's the Way Love Is". Later in his life, Gaye reflected on the influence of Ruffin and Stubbs stating, "I had heard something in their voices something my own voice lacked". He further explained, "the Tempts and Tops' music made me remember that when a lot of women listen to music, they want to feel the power of a real man."
 Vocal range
Gaye encompassed a three-octave vocal range. From his earlier recordings as member of the Marquees and Harvey and the Moonglows and in his first several recordings with Motown, Gaye recorded mainly in the baritone and tenor ranges. Gaye changed his range to a raspier tenor for his gospel-inspired early hits such as "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Hitch Hike". As writer Eddie Holland explained: "He was the only singer I have ever heard known to take a song of that nature, that was so far removed from his natural voice where he liked singing, and do whatever it took to sell that song." In songs such as "Pride & Joy", Gaye used three different vocal ranges for the song, singing in his baritone range at the beginning, bringing a lighter tenor in the verses before reaching a gospel mode in the chorus. Holland further stated of Gaye's voice that it was "one of the sweetest and prettiest voices you ever wanted to hear." And while he noted that ballads and jazz was "his basic soul", he stated Gaye "had the ability to take a roughhouse, rock and roll, blues, R&B, any kind of song and make it his own", later citing that Gaye was the most versatile vocalist he ever worked with.
Gaye's vocal style changed in the late 1960s in which he was told to incorporate a sharper raspy voice especially in Norman Whitfield's recordings, which Gaye initially profoundly disliked, considered it out of his range, but said he was "into being produce-able". After listening to David Ruffin and Levi Stubbs, Gaye said he started to develop what he called his "tough man voice" stating "I developed a growl". According to the liner notes of his DVD set, Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing in Performance 1964-1981, Rob Bowman stated that by the early 1970s, Gaye had essentially developed "three distinct voices; his smooth, sweet tenor, a growling rasp and an unreal falsetto". Bowman further wrote that the recording of the "What's Going On" single was "the first single to utilize all three as Marvin developed a radical approach to constructing his recordings by layering a series of contraptunal background vocal lines on different tracks, each one conceived and sung in isolation by Marvin himself." Bowman cites Gaye's multi-tracking of his tenor voice and other vocal styles "summon[ed] up what might be termed the ancient art of weaving".
 Social commentary and concept albums
Prior to recording the What's Going On album, Gaye recorded a cover of the song, "Abraham, Martin & John", which became a UK hit in 1970. Only a handful of artists of various genres had recorded albums that focused on social commentary, including Curtis Mayfield. Despite some politically conscious material recorded by The Temptations in the late 1960s, Motown artists were often told to not delve into political and social commentary, fearing alienation from pop audiences. Early in his career, Gaye was affected by social events such as the Watts riots and once asked himself, "with the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?" When the singer called Gordy in the Bahamas about wanting to do protest music, Gordy cautioned him, "Marvin, don't be ridiculous. That's taking things too far."
Once Gaye presented Gordy with the What's Going On album, Gordy feared Gaye was risking the ruination of his image as a sex symbol. Following the album's success, Gaye tried a follow-up album that he would label You're the Man. The title track only produced modest success, however, and Gaye and Motown shelved the album. Later on, several of Gaye's unreleased songs of social commentary, including "The World Is Rated X", would be issued on posthumous compilation albums. What's Going On would later be described by an Allmusic writer as an album that "not only redefined soul music as a creative force but also expanded its impact as an agent for social change".
The album also provided another first in both Motown and R&B music: Gaye and his engineers had composed the album in a song cycle, segueing previous songs into other songs giving the album a more cohesive feel as opposed to R&B albums that traditionally included filler tracks to complete the album. This style of music would influence recordings by artists such as Stevie Wonder and Barry White making the concept album format a part of 1970s R&B music. Concept albums are usually based on either one theme or a series of themes in connection to the original thesis of the album's concept. Let's Get It On repeated the suite-form arrangement of What's Going On, as would Gaye's later albums such as I Want You, Here, My Dear and In Our Lifetime.
Marvin Gaye has been called "the number-one purveyor of soul music". In his book, Mercy Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye, Michael Eric Dyson described Gaye as someone "who transcended the boundaries of rhythm and blues as no other performer had done before". His recordings for Motown in the 1960s and 1970s shaped that label's signature sound. His work with Motown gave him the titles, Prince of Soul and Prince of Motown. According to several music critics and historians, Marvin Gaye's career "spanned the entire history of rhythm and blues from fifties doo-wop to eighties contemporary soul." Critics stated that Gaye's music "signified the development of black music from raw rhythm and blues, through sophisticated soul to the political awareness of the 1970s and increased concentration on personal and sexual politics thereafter." As a Motown artist, Gaye was among the first to break from the reins of its production system, paving the way for Stevie Wonder. Gaye's late 1970s and early 1980s recordings influenced contemporary forms of R&B predating the subgenres quiet storm and neo-soul.
Artists from many genres have covered Gaye's music, including James Taylor, Brian McKnight, Chico DeBarge, Michael McDonald, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Aaliyah, A Perfect Circle, The Strokes and Gil Scott-Heron. Other artists such as D'Angelo, Common, Nas and Maxwell interpolated parts of Gaye's clothing from the singer's mid-1970s period. Gaye's clothing style was later was appropriated by Eddie Murphy in his role as James "Thunder" Early in Dreamgirls. Gaye's military-styled clothing attire in his final tour was picked up by Michael Jackson. According to David Ritz, "since 1983 Marvin's name has been mentioned - in reverential tones - on no less than seven top-ten hit records." Later performers such as Kanye West and Mary J. Blige later sampled Gaye's work for their recordings.
 Awards and honors
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him in 1987, declaring that Gaye "made a huge contribution to soul music in general and the Motown Sound in particular." The page stated that Gaye "possessed a classic R&B voice that was edged with grit yet tempered with sweetness". The page further states that Gaye "projected an air of soulful authority driven by fervid conviction and heartbroken vulnerability" throughout his career. A year after his death, then-mayor of D.C., Marion Barry declared April 2 as "Marvin Gaye Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund Day" in the city. Since then, a non-profit organization has helped to organize annual Marvin Gaye Day Celebrations in the city of Washington. A year later, Gaye's mother founded the Marvin P. Gaye Jr. Memorial Foundation in dedication to her son to help those suffering from drug abuse and alcoholism; however she died a day before the memorial was set to open in 1987. Gaye's sister Jeanne once served as the foundation's chairperson. In 1990, Gaye received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1996, Gaye posthumously received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed three Gaye recordings, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", "What's Going On" and "Sexual Healing", among its list of the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll". American music magazine Rolling Stone ranked Gaye number 18 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and sixth on their list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". Q magazine ranked Gaye sixth on their list of the "100 Greatest Singers".
Three of Gaye's albums, What's Going On, Let's Get It On and Here, My Dear, were ranked by Rolling Stone on their list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". What's Going On remains his largest-ranked album, reaching No. 6 on the Rolling Stone list and topped the NME list of the "Top 100 Albums of All Time" in 1985 and was later chosen in 2003 for inclusion by the Library of Congress to its National Recording Registry. In addition, four of his songs, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", "What's Going On", "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing" made it on the Rolling Stone list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
In 2006, an old park that Gaye frequented as a teenager called Watts Branch Park in Washington was renamed Marvin Gaye Park. Three years later, the 5200 block of Foote Street NE in Deanwood, Washington, DC, was renamed Marvin Gaye Way.
 Use of his music and documentaries
His 1983 NBA All-Star performance of the national anthem was used in a Nike commercial featuring the 2008 US Olympic basketball team. Also, on CBS Sports' final NBA telecast to date (before the contract moved to NBC) at the conclusion of Game 5 of the 1990 Finals, they used Gaye's 1983 All-Star Game performance over the closing credits. When VH1 launched on January 1, 1985, Gaye's 1983 rendition of the national anthem was the very first video to be aired. Most recently, it was used in the intro to Ken Burns' Tenth Inning documentary on the game of baseball.
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was played in a Levi's ad in 1985. The result of the commercial's success led to the original song finding renewed success in Europe after Tamla-Motown re-released it in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. In 1986, the song was covered by Buddy Miles as part of a California Raisins ad campaign. The song was later used for chewing gum commercials in Finland and to promote a brand of Lucky Strike cigarettes in Germany.
Gaye's music has also been used in numerous film soundtracks including Four Brothers, which frequently played Gaye's music from his Trouble Man soundtrack. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was used in the opening credits of the film, The Big Chill. Gaye's music has also been the result of samples in hip-hop recordings.
In 2007, his song, "A Funky Space Reincarnation", was used in the Charlize Theron-starred ad for Dior J'Adore perfume. A documentary about Gaye – What's Going On: The Marvin Gaye Story – was a UK/PBS co-production, directed by Jeremy Marre and was first broadcast in 2006; two years later, the special re-aired with a different production and newer interviews after it was re-broadcast as an American Masters special. Another documentary, focusing on his 1981 documentary, Transit Ostend, titled Remember Marvin, was seen in 2006.
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