Marvin Gaye facts: Motown, songs, children, and his tragic death at the hands of his father

21 March 2022, 10:47 | Updated: 5 October 2023, 14:10

Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest soul singers of all time, from his time at Motown to his thought-provoking and sensual solo material.

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The legendary performer would have turned 80 in 2019, and his music still sounds amazingly fresh and exciting all these years later.

For Gold's Hall of Fame, here's all the important facts you need to know:

  1. Who was Marvin Gaye?

    Marvin Gaye
    Marvin Gaye. Picture: Getty

    Marvin Gaye was an American singer, songwriter and producer.

    He was one of the main singers that created the Motown sound of the 1960s, first as an session performer and later as a solo artist. His Motown hits included 'How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)' and 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', and duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Diana Ross and Tammi Terrell.

    In the 1970s, he recorded the albums What's Going On and Let's Get It On, becoming one of the first artists from Motown (along with Stevie Wonder) to break away from the company on his own merit.

    After a period in Europe as a tax exile in the early 1980s, he made a successful comeback with the 1982 Grammy Award-winning hit 'Sexual Healing' and its album Midnight Love.

  2. What was his real name?

    Marvin Gaye's real last name was Gay (without the 'e'). However, he was bullied from a young age due to homophobia, and because his father was known to be a crossdresser.

    Due to this, and rumours of the singer's own sexuality, that Marvin added the 'e' to his last name when he became famous.

  3. Marvin Gaye and The Moonglows: He was a member of a vocal group first

    Marvin Gaye, Harvey and The Moonglows - Twelve Months Of The Year (1959)

    Before launching a solo career, Marvin Gaye joined The New Moonglows in the 1950s.

    They performed with established singers like Chuck Berry and had a huge hit with 'Sincerely'. Before this, he formed the group The Marquees with friend Reece Palmer.

  4. When did he join Motown?

    Gaye performed at Motown president Berry Gordy's house, who was impressed by the singer.

    He soon signed with Motown subsidiary Tamla. At first, he pursued a career as a jazz performer, and had no desire to become an R&B or soul singer.

  5. What were his most famous songs?

    Marvin Gaye - Heard It Through The Grapevine (Live at Montreux)

    Marvin Gaye's biggest hits included:

    - How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)

    - Can I Get a Witness

    - It Takes Two (with Kim Weston)

    - Ain't No Mountain High Enough (with Tammi Terrell)

    - You're All I Need to Get By (with Tammi Terrell)

    - I Heard it Through the Grapevine

    - What's Going On

    - Mercy Mercy Me

    - Inner City Blues

    - Let's Get It On

    - Got To Give It Up

    - Sexual Healing

  6. Was Marvin Gaye married and did he have children?

    Marvin Gaye with children Frankie and Nona
    Marvin Gaye with children Frankie and Nona. Picture: Getty

    Gaye married Motown chief Berry Gordy's sister Anna Gordy in June 1963, before separating in 1973. The couple were officially divorced in 1977.

    He later married Janis Hunter in October 1977, but divorced in February 1981.

    Gaye was the father of three children: Marvin III (adopted with Anna, Marvin III was the son of Denise Gordy, Anna's niece), and Nona and Frankie, with his second wife, Janis.

  7. Marvin Gaye died after being shot by his own father

    Marvin Gaye was fatally shot by his father, Marvin Gay Sr, on April 1, 1984, at their home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, California.

    The singer was shot twice, following an argument with his father after he intervened in an altercation between his parents.

    In the days just before his death, Marvin Gaye's parents had arguments over a misplaced insurance policy letter.

    The day before his death, arguments had spread to Gaye's bedroom. Angered by his father shouting at his mother, Gaye told Marvin Sr to leave her alone.

    Marvin Gaye and his parents
    Marvin Gaye and his parents. Picture: Getty

    At around 12.30pm, on April 1, 1984, Marvin Sr shouted at his wife about the document. Marvin, dressed in bathrobe, shouted back downstairs, telling his father if he had something to say, he should do it in person.

    According to Alberta, when Marvin Sr refused, Gaye warned him not to come to his room. However, his father charged upstairs to the bedroom to shout at Alberta, causing Gaye to jump out of his bed.

    When ordering him to leave did not work, Gaye is said to have shoved his father out of the room, and began to kick and punch him. Alberta later told Ritz: "Marvin hit him. I shouted for him to stop, but he paid no attention to me. He gave my husband some hard kicks."

    Minutes after being separated, Marvin Sr entered his bedroom, and returned with a .38 pistol his son had bought him, pointed the gun at Gaye, and shot him directly in the heart.

  8. Marvin Gaye was in the Air Force, and tried to join the NFL

    When he was 17, Marvin ran away from home to join the US Air Force. However, he had trouble following orders from his strict sergeant and was honorably discharged in 1956.

    During his hiatus from music, Gaye looked elsewhere, including professional football. At 31, he set out to become a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.

    "You see, I had this fantasy: I was in the Super Bowl, with millions of people watching me on TV all over the world, as I made a spectacular leaping catch and sprinted for the winning touchdown," he said in his biography.

    Lions coach Joe Schmidt refused to let him try out for the team.

  9. He kickstarted the trend of National Anthem performances

    Marvin Gaye February 13, 1983 The National Anthem

    One of his last public performances was singing the US national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game.

    At the time, performers gave restrained and traditional performances of the anthem, but Gaye sang an emotional performance similar to his other songs.

    This caused controversy, but the idea of personalizing the anthem caught on, and the tradition continues to this day.