My friend Terry was a doorman at a private club in San Francisco.  For my eighteenth birthday, he invited me to the club.  He unhooked the velvet rope.  After a few hours, my brother came and said; either Quincy Jones or Marvin Gaye is at the bar.  I told him, it’s probably Marvin Gaye, he’s performing in the area.  Nevertheless, we rushed over to the bar, it was Marvin Gaye, I walked past his bodyguard and planted a kiss on his cheek, my brother told him it was my birthday.  Marvin Gaye wished me a Happy Birthday and asked me to dance.

Marvin was a smooth dancer as everyone crowded around; he was also sexy and charismatic.   After the dance, he thanked me; I took the opportunity to tell him “your best work was with Tammi Terrell.”  He said thank-you but you could see the sadness and emptiness creep into his face before he walked away.

The Tragic Death Of Tammi Terrell:

Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery on April 29 th 1945 in Philadelphia.  Performing was in her blood; she won numerous talent shows and local competitions.   She would later perform in nightclubs and theaters. In 1960 she was spotted by a talent scout and signed to Scepter Records.

Tammi spent her first recording session cutting demos for the Shirelles, the top female group at the time.  In 1961 she recorded her first single “If You See Bill.”   The following year at the age of 16 she recorded another single “Voice Of Experience.”  Both singles flopped.

By 1963, Tammi joined the James Brown Revue. It has been rumored that Terrell and Brown were romantically involved, allegedly her parents objected and her professional and personal involvement with Brown came to an end.

In 1965, Terrell performed with Jerry Butler at the Twenty Grand, Berry Gordy was in the audience.  He introduced himself, shortly afterwards; Terrell signed a contract with Motown Records.

In 1967, Marvin Gaye was without a duet partner.  Motown producers Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua reasoned that Tammi would be a perfect match; they had the perfect song, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” written by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.

The recording session was magical, their voices blended perfectly, their chemistry was magnetic, the producers accepted the first take.  The greatest duo in R&B history was born on this day.

Although Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell had a definite sexual chemistry, they remained friends; they had a brother and sister type of relationship.  Tammi was dating David Ruffin, lead singer of the Temptations.

Tammi and Marvin would record a string of hits, “Your Precious Love” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.”  Tammi became the toast of Philadelphia.

At the Motown picnics, Tammi was the life of the party, with her sassy good looks and sweet personality.  At these picnics, you could watch the Temps and Four Tops play touch football or softball, the Supremes work on a medley, Smokey Robinson going over lyrics with the Miracles, Martha & The Vandellas talking wardrobe with Mary Wells and Little Stevie Wonder being mischievous.  At one table, you had the songwriters, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Ashford and Simpson discussing structure.  At another table you had the studio musicians, The Funk Brothers.

Tammi had the ‘it factor.’ When she walked into a room, her presence dominated the room.  Fans loved her; she was very personable and approachable.

Her relationship with David Ruffin was rocky, they were on and off and they dated other people between breakups.

Rumors have circulated for years that Tammi was the victim of physical abuse.  Allegedly, a boyfriend threw her down a flight of stairs, on another occasion the boyfriend had his bodyguard stand outside the door to prevent anyone from coming to her rescue as he beat her to a pulp, her screams were deafening, he also hit her over the head with a steel chair.

For several months, Tammi complained of severe migraine headaches, during a performance at Hampton-Sydney College she collapsed in Marvin Gaye’s arms.  She was rushed to the hospital; tests revealed, she had a malignant brain tumor.

Motown respected her privacy and played down her illness.  The hits continued as Tammi returned to work. Marvin Gaye tried to lighten up the atmosphere in the studio with pranks and jokes.  A second Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell album “You’re all I Need” was released, produced by Ashford and Simpson.

Headaches continued to hamper Tammi, the once energetic girl was now a shell of herself and the tumor was taking its toll.  A series of operations began, the treatments were painful and Tammi began to suffer memory loss, numbness and weakness.  She became too sick to work.

Motown engineered a deception, Valerie Simpson stepped in to take her place, Marvin was unhappy with the decision.  Motown argued, it was in Tammi’s best interest.   Allegedly, Tammi could continue receiving medical benefits with this deception as well as royalty checks and the public demand would be met.

The “Onion Song” was released, one of the duo’s biggest hits.  The public had no idea that Valerie Simpson sang the female vocals, not Tammi.

Word leaked out that Tammi was dying.  Motown continued to play down her illness and David Ruffin appeared in public to reassure her fans that she was still alive.

Tammi would endure eight operations.  Her family and friends felt helpless as they watched her decline.  She would be confined to a wheelchair, suffer from blindness, hair loss and she plummeted to 85 lbs.

On March 16 th 1970, Tammi Terrell died, she was 24.  Millions of fans mourned her death and thousands attended her funeral.  Her grave stands in Mount Lawn Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Marvin Gaye was devastated and inconsolable.  He wouldn’t perform in public for several years and he vowed never to replace Tammi with another partner.  He kept that promise throughout his life.




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