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He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.Proverbs 11:29
Marvin Gaye's father was born on 1 October 1914 in Jessamine County, Kentucky, the third child of twenty-three-year-old farm labourer George Gay and his wife, Mamie. They registered the boy simply as ‘Infant Gay' but a few weeks later named him Marvin and gave him the middle name Pentz after the German-born doctor who had delivered him. Five years later, the family moved into a house on Adams Street, Lexington, close to George's father, Strawder.
Strawder had been the first in the family to adopt the surname Gay, the first to be born outside slavery and the first to preach. No one was certain where he'd picked up the surname but he'd started using it as a teenager. (His great-grandson, Marvin Pentz Gaye II, added the E when ‘gay' came into popular usage as a term for homosexual.) The origin of his Christian name was equally mysterious, being spelt on various documents as Strother, Strouther, Strauther, Strauder, Strawther, Strader and Straughter as well as Strawder. Census returns from his adult years describe him as either a labourer or a painter. His obituary mentioned that he was also a Baptist preacher.
Born in 1869, six years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Act, Strawder was the son of an unmarried mulatto woman from Montgomery County, Kentucky, named Margaret Anderson. She was a thirty-one-year-old cook, working in the house of a white couple, Matt and Sarah Anderson, and had presumably been one of their slaves. She had taken this family's name and Strawder was registered as Strawder Andersonshortly after his birth. Matt Anderson appears to have been a Christian with compassionate feelings towards his former slaves. In his will he set aside one acre of property to establish ‘a colored Christian church' in Montgomery County.
If Margaret knew who Strawder's father was, she never documented the information. He must have been black because Strawder was registered as ‘black' despite his mother being a ‘mulatto' with two other mulatto children. We know nothing about his early years, but records in the Kentucky State Archives reveal that some time during the 1880s he dropped the name Anderson and became Strawder Gay. His son James passed on the story that the name came from a Frenchman who farmed in Nicholasville, Jessamine County. Having no children, this kindly farmer willed his property to Strawder while on his deathbed. The only problem with the story is that there is no record of Strawder owning a farm or of a Mr Gay farming in Nicholasville at that time.
What we can know is that the Strawder Anderson of the 1880 US census was Strawder Gay ten years later when he married Rebecca Garrett (also ‘black') of Mount Sterling, Montgomery County. When he died at the age of sixty-one, he was sufficiently respected in the community to warrant a mention in the ‘Colored Notes' column of the Lexington Herald. ‘Rev. Strauder Gay died after a lingering illness,' read the entry on 22 September 1930. ‘Wife, Rebecca; three daughters, Margaret Taylor, Mary Belle Taylor and Elizabeth Wells; three sons, George, Bert and James Gay.'
George Gay, Strawder's eldest son, married Mamie Watkins from Indiana and appears to have made her pregnant almost every year of her fertile life. The first child was born in 1911 and the last in 1933 when she must have been almost fifty. Thirteen of these children survived'nine boys and four girls'the third of which was Marvin Pentz Gay, the father of Marvin Gaye.
By the time the youngest children arrived the older ones had left home, but there was a more or less constant brood of seven or eight, which meant that the girls had to share the parents' bed while the boys slept in the living room, some of them on the floor. They were so poor that they often had to scrounge for food in the garbage cans of the better-off, cutting the rot out of apples and potatoes and baking the remains over a fire. Their poverty was made harsher by George Gay's behaviour. Although he worked when he could, he was a terrible alcoholic prone to outbursts of violence. If his wife didn't obey him he would knock her around. The children never actually saw him drinking but he always stank of a combination of whiskey and beer.
‘We were all frightened of him,' remembers Howard Gay, who was born in 1924. ‘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. When I got old enough God gave me the will to tell him to leave my mother alone and get out. I thought I was going to have to kill him myself, but he just gave up.'
George walked out of the family home and headed for Cincinnati. No one in the family ever saw him again. The next time they heard from him he was seriously ill but by the time they reached his bedside he was dead. This left Mamie in sole charge of her large family.
‘She was a very beautiful mother but when you were in her home you had to do what she told you to do,' says Howard. ‘She trained us to hold our heads up. We had to stand straight, sit straight and walk with our backs straight. If she caught us sitting with our heads bent over anything she would tell us that we should only bow our heads to pray. It may have made us appear stuck up, but that's the way we were.'
Her most significant contribution to the life of Marvin Pentz Gay was religion. When he was in his mid-teens, Mamie, who until then hadn't enrolled her family in a church, was converted to a new Holiness denomination, which had recently established itself on Lexington's Newtown Pike. No one knows why this busy mother was attracted to the House of God (or, to give it its full name, the House of God, the Holy Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, the House of Prayer for All People). It could have been the joyous celebration that offered relief from the tedium of mothering and housekeeping. It could have been the emphasis on personal holiness, which promised moral guidance for her young children. Certainly, the House of God would have been very different from the Methodist and Baptist churches she had known. It was here that her boys first sang in public.
Posted December 13, 2002
Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest singers the world has ever heard. A Motown and soul legend, he was the voice behind such hits as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "What's Goin' On," and the unforgettable "sexual healing." Tragically shot dead by his father in April 1984, Gaye's musical legacy and popularity have continued into the next century. "Trouble Man... The life and death of marvin Gaye" is by Steve Turner. It is the biography of "The man behind the music" (Marvin Gaye). In this Biography it is revealing Mr.Gaye's life as a extremely troubled one who is individual¿affected by drug dependency, tormented relationships, and legal and financial difficulties that ultimately led towards that final, fatal meeting with his father. I would recommend the book to whoever wants to know more about this One of a kind motown classics.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.