Marvin Gaye , byname of Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. (born April 2, 1939, Washington, D.C., U.S.—died April 1, 1984, Los Angeles, Calif.), American soul singer-songwriter-producer who, to a large extent, ushered in the era of artist-controlled popular music of the 1970s. Gaye’s father was a storefront preacher; his mother was a domestic worker. Gaye sang in his father’s Evangelical church in Washington, D.C., and became a member of a nationally known doo-wop group, the Moonglows, under the direction of Harvey Fuqua, one of the genre’s foremost maestros, who relocated the group to Chicago.
When doo-wop dissipated in the late 1950s, Gaye had already absorbed Fuqua’s lessons in close harmony. After disbanding the Moonglows, Fuqua took the 20-year-old Gaye to Detroit, Michigan, where Berry Gordy, Jr., was forming Motown Records.
Gaye, who also played drums and piano, bucked the Motown system and its emphasis on teen hits. He was set on being a crooner in the Nat King Cole–Frank Sinatra vein, but his first efforts in that style failed. His break came with “Stubborn Kinda Fellow” (1962), the first of a long string of hits in the Motown mold—mainly songs written and produced by others, including “I’ll Be Doggone” (1965), by Smokey Robinson, and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1968), by Norman Whitfield. Gaye also enjoyed a series of successful duets, most notably with Tammi Terrell (“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” ).
Blessed with an exceptionally wide range that encompassed three distinct vocal styles—a piercing falsetto, a smooth mid-range tenor, and a deep gospel growl—Gaye combined great technical prowess with rare musical individuality. Rebellious by nature, he turned the tables on Motown’s producer-driven hierarchy by becoming his own producer for What’s Going On (1971), the most significant work of his career. A suite of jazz-influenced songs on the nature of America’s political and social woes, this concept album—still a novel format at the time—painted a poignant landscape of America’s black urban