Remembering Motown's Prince

On this day 80 years ago Marvin Pentz Gay later known as Marvin Gaye was born in Howard University Hospital previously known as Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C.  Marvin was the son of  minister Marvin Gay Sr. and domestic worker Alberta Gay. He was the second oldest child of his parents. Marvin had two sisters named Jeanne and Zeola, and one brother Frankie. He also had two half-brothers.

Marvin began singing at the age of four in his local church. His father would play the piano while he sang. The Gay family were members of the Pentecostal church known as the House of God. The church abided by Hebrew Pentecostalism, which enforced strict moral conduct, and followed both the Old and New Testaments. Marvin's passion for singing enhanced as he got older. At the age of eleven he was encouraged to sing professionally. He became popular with his glee club in junior high school.

During his time at Cardozo High School he joined a doo-wop vocal group. These groups were popular in the 1950s.  Marvin had a very tumultuous relationship with his father and it intensified when he was a teenager. Marvin dropped out of high school in 1957 at the age of 16. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a basic airman. Marvin did not like that he was required to do menial task so he pretended that he had mental illness and was discharged.

Upon returning home Marvin joined a local quarter named The Marquees. The group would perform around Washington, D.C. They worked with prominent entertainer Bo Diddley. He was not able to get the group signed to Chess Records. Marvin would join another group named the Moonglows. The group did a record entitled " Mama Loocie," Marvin's first professional recording. Eventually the group would find work as session singers for stars like Chuck Berry. By 1960, the group disbanded. Marvin relocated to Detroit, Michigan. He signed a contract for Tri-Phi Records as a session musician, playing drums. Marvin performed at Motown Founder Berry Gordy's home during the holiday season later that year. Gordy was impressed and wanted to sign Marvin to Motown immediately.

In the beginning of his career with the historic label Marvin wanted to sing jazz and standard songs, he had no desire to sing R&B. Marvin was teased about his surname so he added "e" and became Marvin Gaye. He also did it so silence rumors about his sexuality but changing his name also offended his father Marvin Sr.  In 1961 his first album The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye was released and the rest is history. Marvin's career spanned from 1957-1984. On April 1, 1984 he was shot and killed by his father Marvin Gay Sr. the day before his 45th birthday. Today Marvin received commemorative U.S. postage stamps designed by Kadir Nelson, another DC native.

Toni's Thoughts: My parents were born in the 1960s and grew up listening to Marvin's music with their parents. I was born in 1991 and I discovered Marvin's music at my grandparents home. I began listening the oldies and quiet storm station to hear his voice when I was about eight or nine years old. In my mind that is beautiful. I was not in the world during Marvin's prime but his music transcended generations. Marvin was complex and passionate. He was inspired by Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole but eventually created his own avenue in music.  Marvin broke the rules at Motown against Berry Gordy's wishes and released his best album What's Going On? an album that provided critiques on social and political issues. Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Jacksons would later follow his lead. My favorite albums from Marvin are What's Going On,  Let's Get It On, I Want You, and Here, My Dear. I also love his duets with Tammi Terrell another fallen star. If you have not listened to Marvin Gaye trust me you have been missing out. Without him we would not have artist like Prince, Bilal, D'Angelo and Luke James just to name a few. Happy Birthday Marvin we love you and miss you.



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