Marvin Gaye at Forum

Marvin Gaye

*Author’s note: Following is an article I wrote 12 years ago in 2002. April 1st, marks the 30th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s death. April 2nd would have been his 75th birthday. Marvin’s music is still relevant today, and just as exciting as it was when his recordings were first released. God bless his soul.

[A couple weeks ago I met a guy who had a striking resemblance to Marvin Gaye. Since I had never met Marvin personally, I allowed the writer in me to pretend that it was he, and take my mind back to a landmark time in my life. It was 1984, a day I had anticipated with great eagerness. The negotiating was done, and finally, I was scheduled to sign an exclusive songwriter contract with Motown Records!

Sadly however, when the moment came, instead of all the fanfare and flowing champagne I had envisioned, it was a very somber occasion. It was April 2nd – the day after Marvin was shot and killed. Although Marvin was not under Motown contract at the time, he was still family, and foundational to what Motown had become. Understandably, the mood at the Sunset Blvd. office was not business as usual. Those who had shown up for work that day were solemn – still numbed by the tragic news that hit the airwaves just 24 hours ago.

While I sat at the desk signing the contract, someone snapped my photo. A quick handshake followed. That was it. The only thing I felt afterwards was awkward.

This was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life, but I couldn’t shout, couldn’t click my heels, nor do any of the other things I’d imagined prior to the tragedy. My two accomplices and I quietly left and went to lunch.

It’s been 18 years since Marvin’s death, but it seems like yesterday. Coincidentally, when his Grammy award winning song “Sexual Healing” first hit the airwaves, I remember thinking it had been 18 years since another favorite, Sam Cooke, had been shot and killed in December 1964. Another coincidence: both singers added the “e” to their last names during their professional careers.

The night before Marvin died, I was at my piano playing some very melancholy chord progressions – I was in that mood for some reason.

When someone suggested I write a tribute song to Marvin after his death, I remembered those chords and developed them into a song. After the Motown powers-that-be listened to the demo, word came back that they did not want to commercialize Marvin’s death. Of course that was before the Commodores’ “Night Shift” release, and Diana Ross’ “Missing You” both of which had huge commercial success. The song I wrote called “When He Sings” was intended for Smokey Robinson (not to be confused with “When Smokey Sings” [which came later] written by some folks I’d never met).

The recent coincidence of meeting, within the same week, Marvin’s look alike, and also meeting for the first time, former Motown engineer Art Stewart, who worked closely with Marvin, prompted me to go to that sacred file in my memory. I’m glad I did. Marvin was special, and the date of his passing will always be etched in my mind as my bittersweet entry into the professional realm of the music business.

Oh, by the way, the Marvin look-alike told me people often make comments about the resemblance. He recalled meeting Marvin at one time, and Marvin, noting the resemblance, just laughed!]