He is as big an influence on modern performers across genres as anybody who has had a voice over the last 50 years. (Courtesy shutterstock)

By Sean Yoes
Special to the AFRO

April 1, 1984, felt like the cruelest April Fools prank I had ever heard; Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr., had been gunned down by his own father in Los Angeles. But, tragically it was no joke, the report of Gaye’s murder at his father’s hand (which wielded the gun that took the Soul god’s life) was all too real.

On the eve of his 45th birthday, that act of insanity ended the life of my favorite male musical artist of all time and in my opinion the greatest that ever did it.

Music is probably the most subjective experience of all. You can’t present empirical evidence when it comes to making the case for your favorite musical artist, it’s all about how he or she makes you feel. And I’m not sure if there has ever been a man of music who has felt more deeply than Marvin. And most importantly,  he’s been willing to share what he felt more authentically with his audience.

He is as big an influence on modern performers across genres as anybody who has had a voice over the last 50 years.

Kendrick Lamar is, to a great extent, because Marvin Gaye was.

Although he is very much still an influence on 21st Century music and culture, Marvin’s greatest greatness revealed itself in the 1970s. He was that decade’s greatest soul god.

Of course others have their opinions about what man truly dominated Soul music in the 1970s; Teddy Pendergrass, Al Greene, Eddie Kendricks, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, Barry White and of course Stevie Wonder are among the others whose stars burned brightest in that very influential decade in the evolution of Black American music.

The Marvin Gaye Forever stamp was issued on April 2, 2019, which would have been Gaye’s 80th birthday. (Courtesy shutterstock)

But, let’s make it plain. The only two that should really be in the conversation for real are Marvin and Stevie. The albums tell the story.

In his startling run from 1972 to 1976, Stevie Wonder produced four classic albums: Talking Book, Innervisions, Fullingness First Finale and Songs in the Key of Life.  He was clearly on another planet musically. And in my opinion and that of many others, Songs in the Key of Life is the greatest album in the history of American music.

However, in a very real way Marvin went toe to toe with Stevie from 1971 to 1976, with: What’s Going On?, Trouble Man, Let’s Get It On and I Want You. The fact that Marvin could even hang with Stevie when he was operating at that otherworldly level of genius is only affirmation of Marvin’s greatness.

We know that Stevie is one of the greatest musicians/songwriters the world has ever witnessed. But, it feels like he never really revealed a whole lot about himself through his music. I feel like we really don’t know who Stevie is as a man.

But, we most definitely feel like we know who Marvin was.

In 1971, he was the man that fretted so deeply about the world that he asked the question, “What’s Going On?” 

In 1972, he was the “Trouble Man” that he sang about on the soundtrack he crafted for the movie of the same name.

In 1973, he was the sexy, loverman that declared, “Let’s Get it On!”

In 1976, he was the vulnerable loverman whose yearning only deepened when he proclaimed, “I Want You.”

He was  the man that became the first star in the history of Motown to break away from that label’s formula for producing music and took the reins himself and controlled all aspects of production, from concept to engineering. And in the process he paved the way for people like Stevie to do the same.

Marvin was brutally transparent about his marriages and about his affairs that led to marriage.

Marvin was brutally transparent about his obsessions and addictions to drugs and women.

Marvin was brutally transparent about his anxieties about God and Spirit and the transition to the Afterlife.

Indeed, Brother Marvin had a lot of demons to grapple with to get to his truth. He wasn’t always successful, none of us are. But, it takes a lot of heart to keep trying. Marvin kept trying to get to the truth and report it to us.

I’ll always appreciate him for that.

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Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor