Remembering Marvin Gaye 40 Years Later


Hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since the untimely passing of Marvin Gaye.  April 1 2024, marks the 40th anniversary of the Motown legend’s demise at the hands of his father after a violent argument. For many, his absence and manner of death still sting to this day.

Gaye’s songs continue to be appreciated by new generations such as young Gen Z YouTube reactors. New and long-time fans of R&B music came together recently to support one of his popular collections and helped give the late singer a posthumous new top 10 on a Billboard chart. Gaye’s debut 1’s: Number Ones on Billboard’s Vinyl Albums chart, which ranks the bestselling titles on the format in America, launched at No. 9. It’s a compilation of some of his most beloved singles.

The set marks his third trip to the highest tier on the Vinyl Albums rankings. Not to mention that in 2020, Rolling Stone named Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On, the #1 album of all time. If Motown founder Berry Gordy had had his way, the world might never have heard of the masterpiece. Gordy, who wanted to stick with the record label’s formula of soul with pop appeal, initially thought the concept album was the worst thing he’d ever heard.

The album would mark a huge change in Gaye’s musical trajectory following the death of singing partner Tammi Terrell. Berry Gordy’s father had once stopped a deeply depressed Gaye from committing suicide by handgun. Plagued by a failed marriage to Berry’s sister Anna, a cocaine and porn dependency, and troubles with the IRS, the singer struggled with demons yet his genius in songwriting and sultry “champagne in a glass” four-octave voice were not affected.

Backed by the Funk Brothers, Marvin Gaye’s sound was distinct and obviously what the masses craved. Gaye pushed the needle further with his 1973 album Let’s Get It On and 1976’s I Want You. His mission to introduce fans to deeply sensual songs was followed up with the 1982 hit single “Sexual Healing” from his final studio album Midnight Love.

Two years later, the world would be robbed of the visionary man who masterfully sang all his background vocals and was a gifted multi-instrumentalist. After intervening in a fight between his parents, Gaye was shot twice by his father.  Marvin Gaye, Jr. died just one day shy of his 45th birthday.

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to adapt Gaye’s life story into a feature film. However, members of his family, such as his ex-wife Janis (now deceased), and his son Marvin III, expressed opposition to a biopic.

However, in November 2016, it was announced that actor Jamie Foxx was billed to produce a limited biopic series on Gaye’s life and the series was approved by the singer’s family, including son Marvin III, who was to serve as executive producer. In 2021, it was reported that Warner Bros. had acquired the rights to make the biopic What’s Going On with rapper Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine as producers.

If anyone’s life deserves the big-screen treatment, it would be Marvin Gaye. As we await the movie, there’s still all that timeless music to enjoy.

-Sharon Oliver

Photo: Marvin Gaye (public domain)

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1 comment on “Remembering Marvin Gaye 40 Years Later

  1. John Smistad

    The dawn of the ’70’s would inevitably bring more independent voices to popular music. Motown artists including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers and The Temptations now were inspired to create their own work, expressing ground-breaking song crafting and performing genius through more socially relevant and politically charged articulation.

    “Hitsville” would never be the same.

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