Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. in 1939. He started singing at the age of five in his father’s Apostolic church.
In his teens, Marvin was already playing piano and drums and he discovered “do-wop” music. He joined several groups, including the Dippers and The Tones.
After a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force, Marvin returned home and worked as a dishwasher, before forming a group with Tones member Reese palmer, calling themselves The Marquees. Moonglows founder, Harvey Fuqua heard them and recruited them for his New Moonlgows in 1958.
In 1961, Motown Records main man, Berry Gordy, heard Marvin play piano and sing and signed him to his Tamla label. His career didn’t exactly take off and he worked behind the scenes at Motown as a janitor and by playing drums, on several occasions, which led to a gig as road drummer for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Marvin continued drumming for other Motown artists, including Mary Wells, Contours, Marvellettes, Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and “Little Stevie Wonder. In 1962, he finally had his first hit with “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” and, in 1963, Marvin had his first Billboard top ten hit with “Pride and Joy.”
On the charts, Marvin Gaye charted forty times on Billboard’s weekly Top 40 charts, including twelve as duets, seven of them with Tammi Terrell. He also went to number one on three occasions. Here’s a look at Marvin Gaye’s twenty biggest hits, according to Billboard’s weekly Top 40 charts.
1. I Heard It Through The Grapevine – 1968
Recorded before, but not released until after, Gladys Knight and the Pips took it to #2 on the weekly charts in 1967. It was also covered by Credence Clearwater Revival in 1970.
2. Let’s Get It On – 1973
Marvin’s second #1 single was remixed and released in 2005.
3. Got To Give It Up (Pt. 1) – 1977
A nearly 12 minute version of Marvin’s last #1 single was released on the album “Live At The London Palladium.”
4. What’s Going On – 1971
Cyndi Lauper also took this song to #12 on the weekly charts in 1987.
5. Sexual Healing – 1983
Marvin’s only hit for the Columbia label after leaving Motown.
6. Too Busy Thinking About My Baby – 1969
Originally recorded by the Temptations for their “Gettin’ Ready” album in 1966.
7. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) – 1971
In 2002 this song received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
8. Your Precious Love – 1967
One of five songs to go Top 20 as a duet with vocalist Tammi Terrell.
9. How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You – 1965
Also covered by Jr. Walker and the All Stars in 1966 and James Taylor taking it to #5 on the weekly charts in 1975.
10. You’re All I Need To Get By – 1968
Another duet with Tammi Terrell. The lead vocals were recorded separately and mixed later, so that Terrell could recover from brain tumor surgery. Other covers of this song include Aretha Franklin in 1971 and Tony Orlando and Dawn in 1975.
11. That’s The Way Love Is – 1969
Originally recorded by The Isley Brothers in 1967.
12. Trouble Man – 1973
From the film of the same title.
13. Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing – 1968
Written and produced by Ashford and Simpson, this was the fourth single released with Tammi Terrell.
14. Ain’t That Peculiar – 1965
Written and produced by Smokey Robinson.
15. I’ll Be Doggone – 1965
Marvin’s first million selling record had backup help from the Miracles.
16. Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler) – 1971
Commenting on the economic situation in the country at the time, this is the third single from the “What’s Going On” album.
17. Pride And Joy – 1963
Marvin’s first top 10 single had Martha and the Vandellas doing backup vocals.
18. If I Could Build My Whole World Around You – 1968
Teaming up with Tammi Terrell again, this song was written, in part, by Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows.
19. You’re A Special Part Of Me – 1973
Another duet and one of two Top 20 hits with Motown artist Diana Ross.
20. It Takes Two – 1966
This time Marvin teams up with Kim Weston.
In 1961, Marvin married Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna.
Tammi Terrell died of a brain tumor in 1970, causing Marvin to go into seclusion for a few months.
Although his recording career was going well in the 1970’s, his personal life was hitting hard times. A long divorce battle with Anna, problems with drugs and the I.R.S. led him to move to Europe for three years.
On April 1, 1984, one day before his 45th birthday, during an argument in their home in Los Angeles, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father.
Ranked as Motown’s top selling artist of the sixties, Marvin was posthumously inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.