Happy Birthday Marvin Gaye: Remembering the Prince of Soul

by Mark Long

The list of Black musicians lost too soon is too long and includes legends such as Robert Johnson, Little Walter, and Sam Cooke. Today’s the birthday of another murdered star: Marvin Gaye. From the 1950s to the 1980s, his stirring and intimate songs thrilled his fans, so let’s look at a few of Gaye’s many musical highlights.

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’

Many groups have had hits with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” including Gladys Knight & The Pips and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but Marvin Gaye’s 1968 version produced his first number one hit in the U.S. Thanks to its popularity, Motown re-released the album it was on, “In the Groove,” as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” to capitalize on its success.

‘Let’s Get It On”

Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album “What’s Going On” earned him a $1 million contract from Motown. “Let’s Get It On” was his second album following this new deal, and the title single was a smash hit. Originally written by Ed Townsend as a religious song, Gaye turned the tune on its head and made it a sexy, slow jam classic.

‘Sexual Healing’

The final — and bestselling! — album released during Marvin Gaye’s lifetime was 1982’s “Midnight Love.” It was also his first album after leaving Motown for Columbia. It went triple platinum, driven by the hit single “Sexual Healing.” In addition to Gaye’s trademark soul sound, the song incorporated elements of reggae and synthpop.

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

A pinnacle of Marvin Gaye’s career was winning his first Grammy in 1983 for best male R&B vocal performance for “Sexual Healing.” And really, the hair and outfits of presenters Grace Jones and Rick James in the video below of his acceptance speech … it was definitely the 1980s!

Gaye died the next year, shot by his father as he tried to break up a fight between his parents. His influence was not forgotten, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously inducted him in 1987. But his legacy remains much more than just his songs. It’s the positive effect he wanted them to have on his listeners everywhere.