Born Marvin Pentz Gay, he added the "e" to imitate Sam Cooke. The son of a minister in the House of God, a conservative Christian sect, Gaye began singing in the church choir, later learning to play the piano and drums.
Gaye joined the Air Force after high school. After being discharged, he joined the Rainbows (later Moonglows), a popular local group in Washington DC. Gaye was offered a solo contract by Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown Records after a show in Detroit. Gaye married Gordy's sister, Anna, in 1961.
His career with Motown started slowly - while building his solo career he worked as a session drummer, playing with bands such as The Miracles, The Contours and Martha and the Vandellas.
Gaye's first album 'Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide' was released in 1961, followed by 'The Soulful Mood of Marvin Gaye'. Neither record achieved success on a national level, but both were praised.
Gaye released three unsuccessful singles including 'Stubborn Kind of Fellow' in 1962, 'Hitch Hike' and 'Can I Get A Witness' in 1963, until 'Pride and Joy' became a smash top ten hit in the same year.
He felt discontented with Motown's tight control over his material. By 1965, he had released 39 Top 40 songs for the label. These included a number of duets such as 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' (1967) and 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing' (1968) with Tammi Terrell, who died from a brain tumour in 1970. After this Gaye had no desire to collaborate again.
Gaye hit the charts with his biggest success, 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', in 1968. But his marriage was crumbling and he felt irrelevant, singing about love while popular music underwent a political revolution. In 1969 he released 'Too Busy Thinking About My Baby' and 'That's The Way Love Is', which were both hits but encouraged Gaye to make a change in his next record.
As a result, Gaye released 'What's Going On' in 1971, one of the most memorable soul albums of the time, including then-unheard of radical political and social statements on topics including discrimination, poverty and drug abuse. Gordy at first refused to release the album, but eventually gave in. The album produced three Top Ten singles.
1973's 'Let's Get It On' was a sexually and romantically charged album that was very successful in the charts. His marriage ended soon after. The eventual divorce delayed Gaye's next album 'I Want You' in 1975 as he was undergoing a court battle with Anna. In 1976 it was ruled that a large percentage of his next album would have to be paid to his ex-wife for alimony.
This album 'Here My Dear', which was released in 1978, detailed his failed marriage and almost led to a lawsuit for invasion of privacy.
After a failed single and a failing new marriage to a 17-year-old girl, Gaye moved to Hawaii and then to Europe in 1981. He had two children with Janis Hunter - daughter Nona and son Frankie - before they divorced in 1979.
In Europe, Gaye signed to Columbia Records and released 'Midnight Love' while battling a cocaine addiction. This album included 'Sexual Healing', one of Gaye's most famous songs. Due to his increasing drug problem, Gaye was forced to move back in with his parents. His strained relationship with his father led Gaye to slip further into depression.
On 1 April, 1984, one day before his 45th birthday, Gaye was shot and killed by his father after an argument, with his father claiming it was self-defence. Gaye was cremated and his ashes were released in the Pacific Ocean.
Marvin Sr. later was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped after doctors discovered Marvin, Sr. had a brain tumor. Spending his final years in a retirement home, he died of pneumonia in 1998.