Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

Tangled Roots

Marvin Gay, Sr. was born in 1914, the third of 13 children of poor farm parents in Jessamine County, Kentucky, south of Lexington. It was an abusive household, with father George Gay frequently beating his wife, Mamie.

Trouble Man
Trouble Man

"We were all frightened of him," Marvin, Sr.'s brother, Howard Gay, told Travis Hunter, author of Trouble Man. "When you're five or six years old you don't know what to do when your mother is being beaten and there's hollerin' and cryin' going on."

After failing to scratch out a farm living, George Gay moved his brood to Lexington in 1919. A few years later, Mamie Gay began attending a storefront church in the city affiliated with a religious sect with a comically long name: The House of God, The Holy Church of The Living God, The Pillar And The Ground of The Truth, The House of Prayer for All People.

When Mamie Gay took up the faith, her son Marvin followed and became the family's enthusiastic believer. Many believe Marvin, Jr.'s troubles had psychological roots in both family violence and this peculiar fringe faith.

The House of God, founded by R.A.R. Johnson, mixes elements of Orthodox Judaism with Pentecostal Christianity. Adherents maintain Saturday Sabbath and observe Old Testament prohibitions against pork and shellfish. They ignore Christmas but stock up on matzos for Passover.

The sect's leader, the "Chief Apostle", wears a miter hat adorned with a Star of David. Women attend services wearing all-white clothing. During services, congregants practice "tarrying", repeating the phrase "Thank you, Jesus" as a mantra until the Holy Spirit visits and sets them speaking in tongues.