Marvin Gaye

Singer, Songwriter, Entertainer

Marvin Gaye born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. was an American singer, songwriter and record producer. Gaye helped to shape the sound of Motown in the 1960s the "Prince of Soul".

Marvin Gaye was born as Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. on April 2, 1939, in Washington, D.C., to church minister Marvin Gay Sr., and domestic worker Alberta Gay (née Cooper). His first home was 1617 First Street SW, a few blocks from the Anacostia River. The First Street neighborhood was nicknamed Simple City, owing to its being “half-city, half country”. When Gaye was in his teens, the family relocated first to Columbia Heights, where the family lived at 1417 Monroe Street NW, then to the Deanwood section of the city, where they settled at 10 60th Street NE. Gaye was the second eldest of Gay Sr.’s children and the third overall of six. He had two sisters: Jeanne and Zeola, and three brothers: Michael Cooper, Frankie Gaye, and Antwaun Gay. Michael Cooper was from his mother’s previous relationship while Antwaun was born as a result of his father’s extramarital affairs.

Gaye started singing in church when he was four years old; his father often accompanied him on piano. Gaye and his family were part of a Pentecostal church known as the House of God. The House of God took its teachings from Hebrew Pentecostalism, advocated strict conduct, and adhered to both the Old and NewTestaments. Gaye developed a love of singing at an early age and was encouraged to pursue a professional music career after a performance at a school play at 11 singing Mario Lanza’s “Be My Love”. His home life consisted of “brutal whippings” by his father, who struck him for any shortcoming. The young Gaye described living in his father’s house as similar to “…living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel, and all powerful king.” He felt that had his mother not consoled him and encouraged his singing, he would have killed himself. His sister later explained that Gaye was beaten often, from age seven well into his teenage years.

Gaye attended Cardozo High School and joined several doo-wop vocal groups, including the Dippers and the D.C. Tones. Gaye’s relationship with his father worsened during his teenage years, as his father would kick him out of the house often. In 1956, 17-year-old Gaye dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Air Force as a basic airman. Disappointed in having to perform menial tasks, he faked mental illness and was discharged shortly afterwards. Gaye’s sergeant stated that he refused to follow orders.