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Marvin Gaye at the recording session for "Let's Get It On"

Jim Britt, born 1937
Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr., 1939 - 1984
June 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 38.5 × 57.2 cm (15 3/16 × 22 1/2")
Sheet: 45.1 × 60.4 cm (17 3/4 × 23 3/4")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Jim Britt
Restrictions & Rights
© Jim Britt
Object number
Exhibition Label
Marvin Gaye brought political consciousness and sexual healing to the Motown sound as a soul singer and songwriter. Raised by an abusive father, Gaye first found his voice in gospel and doo-wop groups. While working as a session drummer for Motown, he crafted a vocal style indebted to Frank Sinatra and the black church but with a three-octave range. Whether swinging a raspy gospel tenor or a lover-man falsetto, Gaye expressed both sweetness and grit in the same note. After a series of hit duets for Motown, he rebelled against the label’s apolitical stance and released What’s Going On (1971)—an album of dense Afro-Latin rhythms, black pride and protest, and ambient sounds. In his last decade, he alternated albums of social protest with song cycles of sex and seduction while coping with substance abuse and personal troubles. Rolling Stone ranks Marvin Gaye as number six on its list of greatest singers and number eighteen on its list of greatest artists.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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