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Marvin Gaye

The best-selling Motown artist of all time, singer Marvin Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 -- some three years after the singer was shot dead by his father. His career was marked by major commercial and artistic achievements, as well as personal troubles including daily beatings as a child, an ugly divorce (from Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr.'s sister), and a severe cocaine addiction.

Born Marvin Gay Jr., he got his start singing in church choirs as a child and soon moved on to doo-wop in the '50s. The group he was in caught the attention of Gordy, who signed him to Motown, and by 1963 his singles were starting to chart. Throughout the decade, he had many hits for the label, some on his own and some that were duets with such artists as Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell (whose untimely death had a profound impact on Gaye). His 1968 single "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" topped the charts and was his greatest success.

By this time Gaye was moving away from the packaged Motown sound and Gordy's short leash, wanting to pursue his own artistic vision and comment on the state of the world around him. The concept album What's Going On represented a major shift, examining the Vietnam War, poverty and discrimination, and other pressing issues of the day. Despite the fact that Gordy resisted releasing the 1971 album, What's Going On had several hit singles, and Gaye's vindication helped other Motown artists get more creative control over their own work. A couple of years later, the singer moved into the realm of sexed-up ballads with Let's Get It On, which became his most successful album.

Drug, marital and legal troubles began to take their toll on Gaye and his career in the later '70s and early '80s. In 1982 he had a dramatic comeback with Midnight Love, which featured the hit single "Sexual Healing," but his behavior continued to be erratic and cocaine-addled, culminating in the violent quarrel with his father that led to his death. In later years, his work, and What's Going On in particular, have continued to earn critical appreciation and commercial success.

Written by: Mary Eisenhart

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