LOS ANGELES — The word through the grapevine is that a Washington Boulevard post office may soon be named in honor of the late singer Marvin Gaye.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, has introduced a bill to designate the post office at 4040 W. Washington Blvd. in the singer’s honor. Gaye moved to L.A. in 1972, and lived in the city until his death in 1984.
“Marvin Gaye’s music has transcended generations and gave the 1970s and ’80s a sound,” Bass said in a statement. “I’m proud to have introduced this resolution honoring Marvin Gaye and the defining mark he left on not only the greater Los Angeles area, but the country.”
Gaye helped shape the legacy of the Motown record label in the 1960s and ’70s. He is best known for hits such as “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and “What’s Going On.”
“What strikes me most about Marvin, he was ahead of his time,” said Lee Michaels, a radio personality at the Power of Voices who met the late singer several times.
“The songs that he wrote back in the ’70s, and even earlier, are still relevant today, like ‘Mercy Mercy Me.’ We still have the same problems with the mercury in the water, harming our fish, the pollution in the environment. That’s what that song was about and we’re still wrestling with that today.”
Michaels described the singer as someone who “cared about the little guy,” and said that he enjoyed day-to-day pursuits such as playing basketball or talking to regular people as much as, if not more than, performing.
Michaels also acknowledged that Gaye was a “troubled man.” He struggled with a cocaine addiction and attempted suicide at least three times. During his childhood, he endured frequent beatings from his minister father, Marvin Gay Sr., for infractions such as putting his hair brush in the wrong place or coming home from school one minute late.
Gaye has described living with his father as like “living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel and all-powerful king.”
He later died at the hands of his father, who fatally shot him on April 1, 1984, after a physical altercation when he intervened in a fight between his parents. The incident took place in a home not far from the post office, at 2101 S. Gramercy Place.
Michaels recalls hearing about the singer’s death from his road manager and thinking it was an April Fool’s joke.
“I said, ‘I’m not even going to laugh at that, that’s a terrible thing to say on April Fool’s Day,’ and he kept on saying, ‘it’s true.’”
Despite Gaye’s contentious relationship with his father, Marvin Gay Sr.’s vocation as a pastor helped inspire his son’s love of music. He started singing in church when he was 4 years old, with his father accompanying him on the piano. He also sang with his family at home to celebrate the Sabbath.
Gaye found his first big musical success in 1962, as a co-writer for the Marvelettes’ song “Beechwood 4-5789.” Later that year, he released his first solo hit, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” which reached the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
He added the letter e to his last name to silence rumors about his sexuality, to put more distance between him and his father and as a tribute to Sam Cooke, who had done the same thing.
Not satisfied with sticking to love songs, Gaye expanded his range to political protest ballads, with songs like “Mercy Mercy Me,” and “What’s Goin’ On,” which was inspired by an incident of police brutality at an anti-war rally.
Gaye was posthumously inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I wish he was here today with all the technology we have now. … I bet Marvin would want to be on the radio and speak about things that are going on, not necessarily from a political standpoint, but just to have his opinion known,” Michaels said.
“His creativity was second to none.”