We admit we were a little surprised. When we asked YOU who was the top R&B Male Artist of All Time, we expected the obvious – Stevie. Michael. Luther. Instead, when the votes were tallied, Marvin Pentz Gaye came out on top and won handily, taking 35% of the vote. Luther Vandross and Micheal Jackson took the t #2 and #3 spots out of our 12 worthy nominees. But why should we be so surprised? Gaye is worthy of the title.
Though Gaye struggled throughout his life with drugs and relationships and was shot and killed by his own father, his legacy has transcended his untimely death. There are other icons who are more accomplished musicians and singer/songwriters like Donny Hathaway, more classic songwriters, but Gaye had something that was uniquely his. He created one of the greatest socially conscious albums of all time in 1971’s”What’s Going On” and one of the greatest lovemaking albums of all time in 1976’s”I Want You.” In 1978, Gaye also, very famously, recorded an album to settle an acrimonious divorce from his ex-wife Anna Gordy. He called it “Here, My Dear.”
Gaye first married Gordy, Motown head Berry Gordy’s sister, who was almost two decades older, then married Janis Hunter, a much younger teenager when they met. They had two children – actress/musician Nona Gaye and her brother Frankie, but later divorced.
Gaye was one of the biggest Motown stars who didn’t originally hail from Detroit as he was born and raised in Washington, D.C. One of R&B’s most versatile artists, his output was prodigious. Like most musicians of the era, Gaye released a great deal of music and did so in multiple genres. Gaye wanted to be a crooner in the Nat King Cole/Frank Sinatra tradition as he began his career in doo-wop. Much of his early music was in that vein. Starting in 1962, Gaye would earn 60 top 40 R&B records over the next 20 years. He recorded 17 solo studio albums, 7 duet albums with Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Diana Ross, and four live albums. His last, “Midnight Love,” (1982)with it’s huge hit “Sexual Healing” revitalized a career marred by drug abuse, but sadly the triumph was short lived.
Gaye was a complicated man who had a difficult relationship with his father, a Pentecostal minister, his entire life. The senior Gay (Marvin added the “e” later on) was abusive to his son and fathered a child out of wedlock, though some of Gaye’s biographers have speculated that he may have struggled with his sexuality. Gaye’s heart-wrenching song “Piece of Clay” is likely about his own troubled parental relationship . On April 1, 1984, after an argument lasting over several days, Gaye was shot and killed instantly by his father. He was just 44 years old.
Contemporary R&B artists like Usher, Bruno Mars, Miguel, Musiq Soulchild, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and even R. Kelly and Trey Songz both of whom sang openly about sexual themes, owe their debt to Gaye’s musicianship and his creativity. Yet none of them have the combination of vulnerability, honesty, sexuality and social consciousness that made Gaye one of R&B’s most beloved artists. He is your choice for R&B Top Male Artist of All Time.
1968 “You’re All I Need” (with Tammi Terrell)
1971 “What’s Going On”
1976 “I Want You”
1982 “Midnight Love”
Watch his famous rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1983 All-Star Game