Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

Gay Goes to Washington

In 1934, Marvin, Sr. moved to Washington, D.C., as a House of God preacher. There he met Alberta Cooper. Born near Rocky Mount, N.C., she had been shipped north to avoid a hometown scandal when she turned up pregnant.

Marvin Gay married Alberta in July 1935, but he refused to raise her love child, and the infant was turned over to a sister.

Marvin and Alberta had four children: Jeanne, in 1937; Marvin, Jr., on April 2, 1939; Frankie, in 1942, and Zeola, known as Sweetsie, in 1945.

Marvin, Sr. led a storefront church congregation, although the faith's tiny following could not support its preacher. The Gay family lived in subsidized housing and survived on Alberta's income as a maid.

In 1950, Marvin, Sr. was a candidate for Chief Apostle of the House of God. When the job went to another man, Gay abandoned the church.

He worked sporadically part-time as a postal clerk and for Western Union in Washington, but he would never hold another full-time job. Jeanne Gay estimated her father worked just three years cumulatively after leaving the church.

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