Ex-wife of Marvin Gaye who inspired a masterpiece

  • People
  • Friday, 07 Feb 2014

Songwriter Anna Gordy Gaye had a turbulent marriage with the singer before they reconciled just before he was shot dead by his father.

WHEN Anna Gordy divorced Marvin Gaye in 1975, the settlement was unusual: she would receive the proceeds from his next album – US$305,000 from the advance and US$295,000 in future royalties – in lieu of maintenance and child support. Gaye claimed to be broke, but since he was enjoying success with such hits as What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On, Gordy, who has died aged 92, could have looked forward to substantial compensation for the end of their turbulent 12-year marriage. What she could not have expected was that her ex-husband would turn the album into a post-mortem examination of their relationship.

Gaye had begun the project with the aim of rushing through it to meet his obligation while paying scant attention to quality. As he became more involved in the music, however, he created a rambling but ultimately compelling catalogue of his own feelings towards a woman 17 years his senior, ranging from the tenderly reminiscent to the bitterly dismissive. The double album was unambiguously titled Here, My Dear.

The critics didn’t like it much, and neither did Anna: she considered another lawsuit, this time for invasion of privacy, mentioning a sum of US$5mil. She would have been equally unhappy about its relative commercial failure, but time has shown it to be the last of Gaye’s masterpieces for Motown, the company founded by Anna’s brother Berry.

It was not the only imprint she left on soul music. The words of some of Gaye’s early hits, notably Pride And Joy, were inspired by the beautiful and sophisticated woman he had met when he was still a session drummer. She became his occasional songwriting partner, collaborating on Flyin’ High and God Is Love for the classic album What’s Going On, and on The Bells and Baby I’m For Real, two of the finest soul ballads of the early 1970s, both recorded by the Originals, a Motown vocal group.

The third of the eight children born to Berry “Pops” Gordy II and his wife Bertha, Anna was not a year old when the family moved from Oconee, Georgia, her birthplace, to Detroit, a city on whose reputation the ambitious and entrepreneurial family would have much influence. At 18, after graduating from school, she moved to California, soon joined by Berry Jr, who was then pursuing a career as a boxer.

Both returned to Detroit, where Berry Jr founded the Motown labels, with Gaye among its first artistes. Anna had also moved into the music business, first as a distributor for New York’s Gone and Chicago’s Chess labels and then, in 1958, as co-founder with her sister Gwen of the Anna label, whose biggest hit was the much-covered Money (That’s What I Want) by Barrett Strong.

Gaye had been hired as the label’s house drummer, and when it folded he signed a new contract with Berry Jr as a singer. Marvin and Anna – “the glamour girl of the family”, in Berry Jr’s words – were married in 1963, the year Pride And Joy topped the R&B charts. Three years later they adopted a son born to Anna’s teenaged niece, although the public was told that the boy, Marvin III, had been naturally conceived by the Gayes.

In 1972 they moved to Hollywood, where Marvin built a studio. But the marriage, although founded on a mutual infatuation that never quite burnt out, was scarred by both parties’ infidelities and by violent outbursts. In 1973 Marvin left Anna for the 16-year-old Janis Hunter, who became his second wife and the mother of two more children.

They were amicably reconciled before Gaye was shot dead by his father in 1984 (when the singer was 45 years old). She helped the children to scatter his ashes in the Pacific, and in 1987 she and Marvin III accepted his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here, My Dear, with its mixture of remembered joy and present anguish, will remain as an extraordinary memorial.

She is survived by Marvin III and two grandsons, Marvin IV and Dylan Gaye. – Guardian News & Media

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