Tammi Terrell performing at the University of Michigan in 1967.
Young, beautiful, vivacious, musically talented Tammi Terrell appeared to have a bright future in the music business in 1967, when she appeared at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium with the Motown Revue. After surviving abusive relationships with James Brown and David Ruffin, she made a series of top 40 duet hits with Marvin Gaye. Sadly, Tammi was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1967, which she succumbed to at the age of 24 in 1970.
On this day in music history: November 27, 1965 – “Ain’t That Peculiar” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #8 on the Hot 100 on November 20, 1965. Written by Smokey Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore, Bobby Rogers and Marv Tarplin, it is the second chart topping single for the R&B vocalist dubbed “The Prince Of Motown”. The initial idea for the song comes from Miracles guitarist Tarplin who composes the melody and the songs’ signature guitar lick while on the Motortown Revue tour of England earlier in the year. He’ll play what he’s come up with to his band mates, who helps him finish writing the song. The basic track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on May 5, 1965, and features musical backing by The Funk Brothers and background vocals by the labels’ in-house backup singers The Andantes. Gaye overdubs his lead vocal one week later on May 12, 1965. Released on September 14, 1965, “Ain’t That Peculiar” quickly becomes another smash for Marvin Gaye, and is his second consecutive million selling single.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1982 – “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 10 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on January 29, 1983. Written by Marvin Gaye, Odell Brown and David Ritz, it is the biggest hit for the legendary R&B singer, songwriter and producer. It marks the beginning of a major comeback for Gaye after being plagued by numerous personal problems, including the end of his second marriage and tax problems with the IRS. Living in Belgium at the time, the song is born out of a conversation that Gaye has with author David Ritz, who spots a book of graphic pornographic French cartoons on Gaye’s coffee table. Slightly aghast, Ritz tells the singer that he needs a “sexual healing”. Gaye, amused and intrigued by the phrase asks Ritz if he has any lyrical ideas he’d like to contribute. After the record is released in September of 1982, Ritz notices his name isn’t included in the songwriting credits, and has to sue for writing credit and a share of publishing royalties. The song is also significant as it is one of the first major hits to utilize the Roland TR-808 drum machine, primarily used only as a composing tool for songwriters when recording song demos (prior to the release of the record). His first major hit since “Got To Give It Up” five years before, “Sexual Healing” is a runaway smash on both the R&B and pop charts, winning Gaye the only two Grammy Awards of his career, for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male and Best R&B Instrumental Performance in 1983. “Sexual Healing” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1971 – “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #9 on the Hot 100 on the same date. Written by Marvin Gaye and James Nyx, it is the seventh chart topping single for the R&B music icon. Following the huge success of the single “What’s Going On” after its release in late January of 1971, Motown demands a full album to accompany it. Gaye quickly gets to work on the rest of the songs, writing both on his own and collaborating with close friends and associates around Motown including songwriter Al Cleveland, Four Tops member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and even his wife Anna. Marvin also writes with songwriter James Nyx, who had originally had worked as a janitor and handy man at friend and former Moonglows band mate Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi/Harvey record label in Detroit. Nyx eventually begin writing songs with Fuqua, then following him to Motown in 1963 when Tri-Phi and Harvey Records are absorbed by Motown. Nyx meets Marvin Gaye through Fuqua at this time and the trio begin writing together, though their material is shelved. Together, Gaye and Nyx write songs for The Originals (“Baby I’m For Real”, “The Bells”), including the single “We Can Make It Baby”. While working on songs for the “What’s Going On” album, the pair collaborate on three songs, “What’s Happening Brother?”, “God Is Love”, and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”. While the title track expresses anguish over problems affecting the world at large, most prominently the war still raging in Vietnam (at that time), the latter of those songs mediates on issues even closer to home. “Inner City Blues” puts into clear focus, the often dire and bleak conditions in major inner cities in America that many of its citizens are living under. The track is recorded in March of 1971 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit with members of The Funk Brothers including Bob Babbitt (bass), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas), Robert White, Joe Messina (guitars), and Chet Forest (drums). Issued as the third and final single from “What’s Going On” in September of 1971, it follows its predecessors to the top of the R&B singles chart, and into the top ten on the pop singles chart. “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” becomes one of Marvin Gaye’s most popular and often covered songs, with versions recorded by Grover Washington, Jr. (the title track of his debut album on Motown’s Kudu imprint in 1972), Gil Scott-Heron, Maceo Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. It is also sampled by numerous artists including The D.O.C., A Tribe Called Quest, MC Solaar, Spice 1, Scarface, Ice Cube, Too Poetic, K-Solo, Janet Jackson, Ralph Tresvant, and Angela Winbush.
Known for her duets with Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery on
April 29, 1945 in Philadelphia. Her younger sister says Tammi was raped by three boys when she only 11 years old. In 1960, she signed to a record label where she recorded a couple of singles. She left that label to sign on with James Brown where she began singing back up in his revue. Even though she was only 17, Tammi became sexually involved
relationship with James who was almost 30. One night on the road Tammi left him after getting mercilessly beaten. In 1963, her first charting single “I Cried” reached #99 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Frustrated with her failure, she decided to quit the music business and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania where she spent the next two years as a pre-med major.
In 1965, on her 20th birthday, she signed on with Berry Gordy who changed her professional name to Tammi Terrell. During the Motown Revue tour which she opened for The Temptations, Tammi began a volatile relationship with the lead singer David Ruffin. In 1966, David surprised her with a marriage proposal. However, Tammi was devastated once she discovered that he had a wife, three children and another girlfriend in Detroit. This led to them having public fights. It is claimed that Ruffin hit
with a hammer and a machete, though these claims were denied by
Earl Van Dyke, leader of Motown’s Funk Brothers band, recalled David beating up Tammi in the Hitsville building.
Her sister Ludie Montgomery also confirmed a story that Tammi was hit in the face by Ruffin’s motorcycle helmet, leading to the end of their relationship in 1967.
In 1967 Tammi began recording with Marvin Gaye, they a close platonic relationship and the duo released a string of hits including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love”. While performing live with Marvin at Hampden-Sydney College she collapsed and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Following the surgery in 1970, Tammi slipped into a coma and died on March 16, just weeks before her 25th birthday.