I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Marvin Gaye was murdered by his father on the day before his forty-fifth birthday in 1984. Today is the anniversary of his birth. He died way too young, though he seems to have encompassed three or four careers in the space of a tragically shortened life. Jason Ankeny’s Allmusic entry on Gaye does a good job covering the highlights of his career.

Gaye worked doggedly as a singer and musician before he was signed to Motown by Berry Gordy in 1961. At Motown Gaye produced a steady stream of hits on his own as well as with duet partners Mary Wells and, most notably, Tammi Terrell, who collapsed in his arms onstage in 1967 and died three years later. In the video below they lip synch to their terrific version of Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It just doesn’t get much better than this.

Gaye’s first career as a Motown star culminated in his 1968 version of Strong and Whitfield’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” simply one of the all-time great Motown and pop music singles. (Whitfield’s production deserves an equal share of the credit along with Gaye’s vocal.) But Gaye reinvented himself as a singer/songwriter on 1970’s seminal “What’s Going On.” He continued to dig deeper into his art while nevertheless succumbing to unrelenting personal demons.

Gaye overcame those demons sufficiently to experience yet another comeback kicked off by the hit “Sexual Healing” in 1982. He last appeared in public singing the national anthem at the 1983 NBA all-star game. Gaye had begun singing in church at age three. In his moving rendition of the anthem he seemed to bring it all back home: “O say does Thy star-spangled banner yet wave…?”


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