To Be Truly Righteous: Commemorating the Prince of Soul


Front photo Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

This week Marvin Gaye, the "truest artist," divided soul, Motown legend and troubled "seeker who sought salvation through music" is back among us, both ethereal and palpable. Born April 2, 1939, died April 1, 1984: Tuesday marked what would have been his 80th birthday; Monday marked the 35th anniversary of his murder by his own father, a final act of violence after decades of abuse that was "truly one of music’s most senseless tragedies" among so many. In his too-brief life - he was killed the night before he would have turned 45 - Gaye reached uncommon heights and depths. He achieved super stardom as the Prince of Soul; he long struggled with substance abuse, depression and loss, including the early death of his best friend and singing partner Tammi Terrell. To those who loved and admired him, Gaye "gave us heaven and hell...Marvin suffered for his art - and you could hear it. He was not ashamed. He knew no other way...The microphone was his confessional, the vocal booth his confession box: This is how I feel, right here, right now."

After a years-long process, Tuesday also saw the dedication of a Commemorative Forever Stamp in his image, part of the Postal Service's Music Icons collection. Artist Kadir Nelson based it on a picture of Gaye around 1971's "What's Going On," his seminal turn away from clean-cut Motown to a world torn by the Vietnam War, police brutality, racism and protest. Gaye's brother had just returned from the war, Gaye himself was in a dark place, and he had to fight for the song, once explaining, “To be truly righteous, you offer love with a pure heart, without regard for what you’ll get in return... People were confused and needed reassurance." Near the end of his turbulent life, he likewise spoke of his music as a healing gift from a man in pain who empathized with the pain of others: He made it "so that I can feed people what they need, what they feel." This week we got his final, bittersweet gift: the release of a long-delayed, posthumous album in which, "despite his divided soul, he married the secular to the sacred with exquisite grace." The title: "You're the Man." May he rest in peace and power.

"Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some loving here today..."


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~ Marvin Gaye, April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984

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