Reflections Of Marvin Gaye: April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984


In April 2005 the Oakland, California based art collective SOUL SALON 10 celebrated the 66th birthday of one of the most important music figures of the 20th century, Marvin Gaye, with a visually stimulating interpretation of his life and music through the art exhibit TROUBLE MAN which displayed at the African American Museum and Library of Oakland (AAMLO). In honor of the 71st birthday of the music genius and the 5 year anniversary of the TROUBLE MAN exhibit Reflections In Rhythm looks back with an essay from the Soul Salon 10 produced magazine and a few photos from the show. Put on your favorite Marvin Gaye song (everybody has one, or two, or three…) and read along…

Of all of the stars to have shined in the galaxy of Motown Records Marvin Pentz Gay(e) Jr’s shine was the most illuminating. From a talent pool that included Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The Supremes, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson and many other historic music makers, Marvin Gaye became not only the biggest selling artist in Motown history, but also one of the more important voices in music history. From crooner to sociopolitical statesman, Marvin Gaye appealed to women and men with songs of romance, hope, spiritual acknowledgment, environmental concerns, social reflections and sexual liberation. A strong part of his connection to the public was his willingness to explore and loudly sing about subjects that were whispered and considered taboo, from talk of war and its extensive effects, to celebrations of orgasmic pleasure; all of which became common parts of conversation with the help of Marvin. He provided the soundtrack to a political movement in one instance and a sexual revolution in the next.

The depth of Marvin Gaye’s importance as a singer/musician/musical philosopher is immeasurable. His contributions as an instrumentalist and vocal technician are timeless. By combining various influences of his music vocabulary: doo wop vocal harmonies, gospel’s passion, jazzy chord structures, bluesy introspection and pop sensability, Marvin developed a singular style that was as much about feel as it was about sound. From the mid tempo throbbing heartbeat of a “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow(‘s)” relentless pursuit of another’s affection, or the pain, anguish and embarrassment felt from finding out about a lover’s lover “Through The Grapevine”, to the pensive thoughts of “What’s Going On” in a divided world, and the Jazz fueled confessions of the torn soul of a “Trouble(d) Man” who’s come apart playing by society’s rules, to the seductive invitation of “Let’s Get It On” and the erotic testimonial to “Sexual Healing”. Through music Marvin Gaye wrote and sung about life… His life and aspects of Ours.

With over 20 years of top 20 songs his career was a contradiction of musical consistency among personal and professional chaos. Reports of Marvin’s trialsand tribulations have been chronicled in many news and entertainment publications, celebrated biographies and even his own songs. In 1965 Marvin’s hit “Ain’t That Peculiar” was partially inspired by his volcanic relationship with his wife Anna Gordy. Their stormy marriage would be the muse for other classics, culminating in the 1978 epic “HERE MY DEAR”, a song by song expose of the courtship, romance, marriage and breakup which eventually became the universal soundtrack for broken hearts and failed romances.

Never satisfied with merely making dance music and love songs, Marvin, fighting against Berry Gordy and the Motown hit machine, began to mix political statements into his groove. Reflecting on the societal concerns of the Viet Nam era Gaye played a war veteran in the 1969 movie THE BALLAD OF ANDY CROCKER, starring Lee majors and Joey Heatherton. His narrative “What’s Happening Brother” from his 1971 WHAT’S GOING ON, relates the views of many Black soldiers who’d returned to an inhospitable “home” of nonexistent social or economic justice for them after they’d been giving their lives helping others attain true democratic liberties on foreign soil. “You’re The Man”, the hardcore political indictment released as a single in 1972, reflects Black America’s growing disdain for U.S. government policy. With “Trouble Man” Marvin fused funky bass lines with Jazz orchestrations to create an instrumental soundscape of inner city blight, crime and civil injustice. Although recorded for a movie of the same name, the 1972 soundtrack stood on its own as a comment on the Black urban experience in Amerikkka. The commercial and chart topping success of Marvin’s early 70’s political statements convinced reluctant Motown chief Berry Gordy of the marketable appeal of “message music” and helped open the doors for the groundbreaking musical social commentaries of Stevie Wonder’s INNER VISIONS, and writer/producer Norman Whitfield’s urban life observations through the Temptations (CLOUD NINE, PSYCHEDELIC SHACK, MASTERPIECE, etc.)

The timeless themes of love and romance remained favorites for Marvin, yet also provided the battleground for the ongoing conflicts between feeding the spirit and satisfying the flesh. In wonderous duets from 1964 to 1968 Mary Wells, Kim Weston and, most notably, Tammi Terrell each helped Marvin craft heartwarming musical love stories that blended youthful innocence with mature awareness through such masterpieces as “Once Upon A Time”, “It Takes Two” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. The coy innuendoes of the 1960’s matured to an open seduction with society’s sexual liberation movement of the 1970’s and Marvin’s 1973 bedroom anthem album LET’S GET IN ON which exalted the joys of sex through the singles “Let’s Get It On”, “You Sure Love To Ball” and “Keep Getting It On”. Gaye also boasted a passion of undying love in “If I Should Die Tonight” and provided the most memorable statement of love’s limitless embrace with “Distant Lover”. The 1976 recording I WANT YOU keenly plays as an opera in soul, telling the familiar “boy meets girl” story of love found, love lost and the hope of rekindled romance. Marvin’s musical seduction reached its zenith in his 1982 ode to the therapeutic qualities of erotic pleasures with “Sexual Healing”.

Personal turmoil with taxes, drugs and marriage kept Marvin in the news, out of the recording studio at times, and out of the country for a bit of time. His murder on April 1st 1984 ended our time with him but also served to increase our appreciation of him. The lucid voice of Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr spoke to and for many. He has been influence and inspiration to many of his contemporaries and continues to be a model of musical excellence for all to artistically follow.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The Soul Salon 10 artists of the 2005 TROUBLE MAN exhibit are Andrea Ali, April Banks, Michael Coles, Eesuu, Kaya Fortune, Bridget Goodman, Woody Johnson, Keba Armand Konte, Rosalind McGary, Bryan Keith Thomas, Brian Walker, Githinji Wa Mbrie, Amanda Williams, Keith “K-Dub” Williams

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3 Responses to “Reflections Of Marvin Gaye: April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984”
  1. tdanyelonline says:

    Thank you for this brilliant reflection on the life and musical legacy of a Washington DC native. I hope there is a way folks in DMV area could check out the Soul Salon 10 one day.

    Congrats on a great post!
    TDanyel

  2. TahoeBlue says:

    and Marvin was the drummer at the Motortown Revue live recording in 1962 in which Stevie Wonder made his debut, with Fingertips !

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  1. […] In April 2005 the Oakland, California based art collective SOUL SALON 10 celebrated the 66th birthday of one of the most important music figures of the 20th century, Marvin Gaye, with a visually stimulating interpretation of his life and music through the art exhibit TROUBLE MAN which displayed at the African American Museum and Library of Oakland (AAMLO). In honor of the 71st birthday of the music genius and the 5 year anniversary of the TROUBLE … Read More […]



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