R.I.P. Marvin Gaye – My Tribute by Ron Worthy + Pre-Motown Marvin Gaye Obscurities

I grew up with Marvin Gaye.  Not literally, of course, but in the way you grow up with a popular cousin who moved away and is a big star.  You see, I grew up in Washington, D.C., where Marvin Gaye grew up. Anyone who has lived in the District knows it is a very small town masquerading as a global center. There is the Washington you see on TV and then there is D.C., where the folks who work in the Government centered city live. The city is divided into four quadrants and it is generally accepted that the most affluent section is Northwest D.C. Marvin grew up in Southeast, the direct opposite of NW geographically and economically, and later moved to the Deanwood section of Northeast, not too far from where I grew up.

Marvin attended Cardozo High School off of Florida Avenue and near Howard University in NW. Growing up in the 70s and 80s in DC meant avoiding this area since it was very near to the infamous U street corridor, which back then was a den of iniquity that was to be avoided at all costs. I cannot even imagine what it was like when Marvin went there. Perhaps, it was a better time. Despite his minister father’s disdain for all things secular, Marvin would become hip to doo-wop and join several singing local singing groups. And despite popular belief, it was Bo Diddley, who discovered Marvin Gaye and not Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder.

Marvin’s music was a constant in my life. Many of my early years were spent at my family’s juke joint, The Funky Donkey, which was located right outside of the District in nearby Cedar Heights, MD. Cedar Heights in now District Heights, MD but I will never forget those times, waiting my turn to play pool and listening to the likes of Bobby Womack, The O’Jays and, of course, Marvin Gaye. We sold cold beer and BBQ and some of the best conversation and down home music anywhere. I recall so many BBQs and family reunions and knowing it would not be complete until we heard Got to Give It Up.

On the day Marvin was killed by his father, I was in a record store in New Carrolton, MD. I had just finished looking at posters and was picking out a Duran Duran button (yes, that Duran Duran) and somebody ran by the record store door like a modern day Paul Revere and yelled “Marvin Gaye daddy killed him! Marvin Gaye daddy killed him!” Keep in mind, this is waaaay before cell phones and answering machines (at least in my house), so we just rushed home and started making calls to anyone who had heard anything. I recall radio tributes and extensive local coverage but was shocked to learn more of the details of Marvin’s death. While Marvin and his father had had a strained relationship dating back to his childhood, it was truly tragic to know that they had not mended fences and the result was the loss of a true titan of music.

Fast forward to the early 90s, and I am driving on Spring Break in Honolulu, Hawaii with a recently purchased cassette of Whats Going On. I remember how I had lived that record when it was out, but it had become background music. My local station in DC, WHUR, played tons of Marvin Gaye, but in the S.F. Bay Area, where I was in college, didn’t play as much. And, as a DJ on campus playing mostly hip hop and new jack swing, I had perhaps lost some of the soul I grew up with. That said, when I heard that album on that dark highway by myself, I think I heard it for the first time. From the opening note to the closing refrain, you can hear the pain and desperate plea Marvin was making. While the album was not received with open arms initially by Berry Gordy, it remains my one of the best albums of all time. At the time, all of my friends and I were on edge wondering if we would be drafted for the Gulf War, so hearing the record at that time in my life really hit home.

Of course, I can never forget the first song that was played at my wedding reception by Qool DJ Marv, Aint No Mountain High Enough, by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. That incredible tune, written by Ashford and Simpson, provided the ideal backdrop for one of the best nights in my life. And finally, my 40th birthday party (DC version) was held at the ultra-hip lounge Marvin, located on the aforementioned U Street corridor, which has since been transformed into a gentrified paradise replete with the requisite bars, lounges and amenities that had been lacking for decades. It was a pleasure to enter a new phase of life at this cool spot named for one of my favorites.

Today, as we celebrate Marvin’s life and mourn his tragic loss, try not to let his message and memory slip away. He transformed music, not just soul music, but all music. His legacy will continue to grow for years to come and we will continue to do our part to uplift it.

Check out some of the following obscure Marvin Gaye pre-Motown highlights:

The Marquees – Hey Little School Girl (Marvin Gaye – Second Tenor/Baritone)

The Moonglows – The Twelve Months of the Year (opening monologue is Marvin Gaye)

The Spinners – That’s What Girls are Made For (Marvin Gaye on Drums)

Check out a few of Marvin Gaye’s classic albums that you should consider for your personal collection:

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