Despite having a short career together due to personal tragedy, the partnership of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell created iconic soul music hits such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "You're All I Need To Get By" that remain deeply popular and have inspired many artists. Tammi Terrell began recording for Scepter/Wand Records at the age of 15, before touring with the James Brown Revue for a year. Terrell's talents won her a contract with Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan later that year, at which time she changed her stage name to Tammi Terrell after having started out as "Tammy Montgomery". Contrary to popular belief, Terrell did not marry boxer Ernie Terrell (the brother of future The Supremes lead singer Jean Terrell).
In the mid-60s, Terrell released a series of minor R&B chart hits, among them "I Can't Believe You Love Me", "Come On and See Me", and "This Old Heart of Mine" (putting on her own spin on The Isley Brothers' classic). In 1967, she was selected to replace Kim Weston as Marvin Gaye's recording partner, with Gaye being one of Motown's biggest singer-songwriters and being hungry to try more. This teaming produced Gaye's most successful duets, and the pair issued a stream of hit singles between 1967 and 1969. Tracks such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "You're All I Need To Get By" epitomized their style, as Gaye and Terrell wove around each other's voices, creating an aura of romance and eroticism that led to persistent (yet false) rumors that they were in a secret relationship.
Being such close friends and strong admirers of each other's talents, the partnership's non-singles and b-side releases have attracted critical praise as well, with many commenting that both of them sing like passionate actors on a stage totally into their roles. Most of the Gaye/Terrell duets were crafted by two songwriting/production teams: Ashford & Simpson and Harvey Fuqua & Johnny Bristol. Though productions could be intense, given the number of talented musicians in one space at one time, the duo recorded track after track. Yet it all would come to a sudden end soon.
While on tour with Gaye in Virginia during the summer of 1967, Terrell fainted onstage. She was diagnosed as suffering from a brain tumor, much to the shock of her and her friends. Despite a series of major operations over the next three years, her health steadily weakened to the point that she could barely sing. By 1969, Terrell was too weak to perform in public or in the studio, and the duo's co-producer, Valerie Simpson, subbed for Terrell on many of the duo's final recordings. Ironically, one of these tracks, called "The Onion Song", proved to be the most successful of the Gaye/Terrell singles in the U.K.
Tammi Terrell died on March 16, 1970. Her burial service attracting thousands of mourners, including many of her Motown colleagues, numerous musicians in Motown and elsewhere felt shocked. Over the years since, her work with Gaye has proved deeply influential on many later soul and rnb artists. As well, Marvin Gaye's spiritual wanderings and self-reflection upon the passing of such a beloved friend proved a significant life event, and he would soon release his critically acclaimed 'What's Going On' album soon afterward.
Official Motown artist page: http://classic.motown.com/artist_pages/marvin-gaye-tammi-terrell/
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