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Anna Gordy Gaye, Ex-Wife of Marvin Gaye, Dead at 92

Sister of Berry Gordy inspired one of music's strangest backstories

January 31, 2014 5:45 PM ET
Anna Gordy marvin gaye
Anna Gordy
PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Anna Gordy Gaye, older sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy and ex-wife of Marvin Gaye, died today at age 92, a Motown representative confirmed.

Gordy Gaye played a key role in Marvin Gaye's life, both personally and professionally. The pair met during a performance at Berry Gordy's house in 1960 and married three years later. Early in his career, Gaye worked as a drummer for Anna Records, a record label founded by Anna and her sister Gwen with songwriter Roquel "Billy" Davis. His early singles "Pride and Joy" and "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" were dedicated to Anna.

The Spirit, the Flesh and Marvin Gaye

Gordy Gaye herself cowrote three of Marvin's songs:  “God Is Love” and “Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)” from 1971's landmark album What's Going On and “Just to Keep You Satisfied” from 1973's Let's Get It On.

Gordy Gaye's marriage to Marvin was one of the most turbulent in music, marked by frequent fighting and infidelity. (Gaye fell in love with 17-year-old Janis Hunter during the recording of Let's Get It On). When Anna filed for divorce in 1975, the proceedings lasted more than two years before the marriage was officially dissolved.

"The marriage was troubled from the start," Marvin told biographer David Ritz. "There was tremendous love between us, and tremendous need for one another. But I couldn't be controlled – not by a wife, not by a manager, not by a record company. I was born a ram and a rebel."

The divorce became the cornerstone to one of the stranger creation backstories in music.  With little cash to pay for back taxes and Anna's divorce settlement, Gaye agreed to pay Anna $600,000, with the first $307,000 coming from an advance against royalties off his next album and the remaining $293,000 to be paid from any future royalties. Gaye began work on Here, My Dear, a brutally honest autobiographical account of his relationship with Anna; its titles –"When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You," "You Can Leave, But It's Going to Cost You" – exemplified the album's personal themes. Here, My Dear told specific stories about the duo's past, causing Anna to consider a $5 million invasion-of-privacy suit against Gaye.

"I figured I'd just do a quickie record – nothing heavy, nothing even good," Marvin told Ritz. "Why should I break my neck when Anna was going to wind up with the money anyway? But the more I lived with the notion of doing an album for Anna, the more it fascinated me. Besides, I owed the public my best effort. Finally, I did the record out of deep passion. It became a compulsion."

Critically maligned upon its 1978 release (disco fans did not want to hear a double-album about breakups and heartache), Here, My Dear has since became an essential album in Gaye's catalog and is often cited as one of his best works. Gordy Gaye and Gaye reconciled in the early 1980s, with Anna by Marvin's side at the 1983 Grammy Awards. She later accepted his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"My sister Anna was the glamour girl of the family," said Berry Gordy. "She was beautiful, sexy, playful, lovely. Men loved her, but she lived for her family, especially her younger brothers of which, I was lucky enough to be one. She backed me up on everything I tried to do and gave me the confidence to be what I wanted to be. I will miss her so dearly. What I’m grateful for most was that she lived to see me reach my goals and shared them all with me in happiness and joy."

Anna Gordy Gaye is survived by her brothers, Berry and Robert, her son, Marvin Gaye III, and two grandsons, Marvin IV and Dillon.

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