Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

Nightmare Childhood

Divided Soul
Divided Soul

His endless idle time allowed Marvin Gay, Sr. to focus on his children.

Although he had given up the House of God, he pressed its many prohibitions on his family. He forbade athletics, dancing, movies, television and popular music. His daughters were not allowed to wear sleeveless dresses, nylons, lipstick, nail polish or open-toed shoes.

He forced his children to observe an extended Sabbath, from Friday afternoon until midday Sunday. He drilled them on Biblical passages and administered beatings for incorrect answers.

All four Gay children were bed-wetters, and this, too, prompted beatings.

Marvin Gaye & Alberta (his mother)
Marvin Gaye & Alberta (his

"Living with father was something like living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all-powerful king," Marvin Gaye told biographer Ritz. "You were supposed to tip-toe around his moods. You were supposed to do anything to win his favor. I never did. Even though winning his love was the ultimate goal of my childhood, I defied him. I hated his attitude... If it wasn't for mother, who was always there to console me and praise my singing, I think I would have been one of those child suicides you read about in the papers."

Marvin, Jr. bore the brunt of the abuse. He could be provoked for the most picayune offenses — when he used his hairbrush or came home 15 minutes late from school.

Alberta Gay said, "My husband never wanted Marvin, and he never liked him. He used to say that he didn't think he was really his child. I told him that was nonsense. He knew Marvin was his. But for some reason he didn't love Marvin and, what worse, he didn't want me to love Marvin either. Marvin wasn't very old before he understood that."

Jeanne Gay said, "From the time he was seven until he became a teenager, Marvin's life at home consisted of a series of brutal whippings."      

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