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xx Janis calls out on "utterly exploitative" play
« Thread started on: Feb 17th, 2013, 10:56am »

Gaye's second wife calls play 'completely and utterly exploitative'


Susan Whitall / Detroit News Music Writer

February 15, 2013

The play "My Brother Marvin," which opened Tuesday at the Fisher Theater and continues through Sunday, has exposed fault lines within the surviving family of the late Motown singer Marvin Gaye.

After a storied career and many hits at Motown -- Gaye recorded the label's most popular single, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" -- the singer was caught in a downward spiral of drug abuse and emotional turmoil in the late 1970s. His career perked up in 1983 with the single "Sexual Healing," but a year later he was shot and killed by his elderly father after a fight over insurance papers.

Gaye remains one of the most popular of the classic Motown artists with younger generations, thanks in part to the timelessness of his poetic, era-defining "What's Going On."

His younger sister, Zeola Gaye, 67, wrote a memoir that forms the basis of "My Brother, Marvin," which was scripted by Angela Barrow-Dunlap. As Zeola told The Detroit News last week, the play is about "Marvin, the man behind the music. You know the Motown star, but you don't know the man."

Gaye's second wife, Janis Hunter Gaye, who goes by Jan, isn't happy about the play. "I saw the TV ad that's airing in Detroit, and the first thing you see is, bang! 'Singer Marvin Gaye Shot Dead!' To me, that's ghoulish," Jan said. "It's morbid, it's a fascination with his murder and completely and utterly exploitative. It pulls in the kind of audience that I don't think deserves that. These are people who loved Marvin, and they're not going to get what they deserve."

She resents the implication that the play is endorsed by Gaye's family.

"(Zeola) puts it out there that the family sanctions this whole thing, and it's not true," said Jan, 57. "Her portion of the family does. But do they reach out to his children? Not at all. To hear Zeola tell it, we hardly exist.

"How about showing what a great brother he was, and hey, you should listen to this fantastic music."

Gaye had an adoptive son, Marvin III, with his first wife, Anna Gordy Gaye (sister of Berry Gordy). Marvin III has been vocal about his father's legacy, calling on Lenny Kravitz to drop plans to portray Gaye in a film. Most recently he's been exchanging angry messages with his aunt Zeola via Twitter over the play.

Marvin Gaye and Jan had two children -- singer/actress Nona, 38, and Frankie, 37. Last week, Zeola said this version of her play has new information about long-simmering family issues that led up to the shooting, gleaned from journals she and her sister, Jeanne, recently discovered. She says the journals were written in the 1980s by her parents (both died years ago).

Jan is skeptical. "Marvin has been dead for 30 years. If you had this, why didn't you reveal it before?"

The 40th anniversary of her first meeting with Gaye is within weeks. It was in March 1973, when Gaye was recording "Let's Get It On," that he met Janis Hunter.

The 17-year-old moved in with him almost immediately, and it was a mini-scandal within Motown circles, because Gaye was still married to Anna. As a Gordy brother-in-law, there were certain expectations.

Gaye legally separated

But he was legally separated from Anna at the time he took up with Jan, she takes pains to point out. She had Nona in 1974 and Frankie in 1975, and they married after his complicated divorce became final. They were divorced in 1981.

Jan now lives in Providence, R.I., near daughter Nona, where she acts as "Mama Bear." Gaye has three grandchildren, Marvin IV, Dylan and Nolan.

"It's sad that Marvin's grandkids, who never met their grandfather, that this is all they have to look at as far as people who claim to be their family," Jan said. "That's a pretty sad situation."

Gaye's wife Anna is, Jan reports, in good health.

"Anna is 91 and doing well, looks fantastic. She gets out. The Gordys are long-lived," Jan pointed out. "(Berry's father) Pops Gordy was 101 when he passed on; his wife was not much younger."

There have been many books written about Marvin Gaye since his 1984 death; Jan Gaye dismisses most of them, including Michael Eric Dyson's "Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye" (Basic Civitas, $13.95).

"That's really not a good one, but since he's a professor at Georgetown, people think, 'Oh, it must be true if he wrote it,'" she said. "The only one I have any respect for is 'Divided Soul' (by David Ritz). And he didn't interview me."

Because there are so many rumors she feels she needs to address, Jan is writing her own memoir.

"I'm almost done with it. Believe me, it's not going to be anything like 'My Brother, Marvin.' It's more leading up to the time where I met him, and the 11 years that we spent together, the good, the bad and the indifferent.

"I'm not afraid of the truth; the truth is so interesting I don't have to make up a thing. The life that I lived with him from (age) 17 to 28, those were unbelievable years. Not always positive, but whose marriage is?"

Youth part of her problem

That she grew up during their marriage was part of what caused it to falter, Jan says. "That was part of our issue."

Apart from Gaye's three children, there are other family members who Jan feels have been unjustly forgotten. Many knew his younger brother Frankie, who died in 2001, but there was an older brother as well, Michael, and a younger brother, Antwaun Carey Gay, who was his father's child with another woman.

"Marvin's brother Antwaun lives in Washington, D.C.; he is younger than Zeola," Jan said. "He looks like Marvin, sounds like Marvin. He can sing, too; he says he can't, but he's not bad."

She plans to go buy a ticket and see "Motown: The Musical," Berry Gordy's Broadway narrative about his life and the glory days of Motown, although she wishes that Gaye's children were invited to it and other Motown events.

Actor Bryan Terrell Clark plays Gaye, and in his first scene in the musical, he's playing the piano at a Christmas party, where Berry Gordy first laid eyes on him.

"Yes, that's how they met," Jan said. "Berry Gordy couldn't believe what he heard."

Did Clark look anything like Gaye, she wondered? No, but few men look like that.

She laughed. "Nobody looks as good. Marvin was a classically chiseled -- if there's such a thing as a perfect face on a man, I hate to say it, but he had that."

As for "My Brother Marvin," Jan Gaye wants people to know that they won't hear Gaye's music in the play.

"What they're going to get are sound-alike (songs), where it sounds almost like 'What's Going On,' or almost like 'Let's Get It On,' same chord changes, same beat, but slightly different."

Gaye's publisher, Sony ATV, hasn't allowed use of his music in the play.

"Zeola thinks it's me personally doing it, or Nona, Frankie and Marvin ganging up on her. But Sony is aware of the other play, and said no. They are trying to protect his legacy."

Despite their differences, she craves healing in the Gaye family.

Her message for Zeola: "Open your arms to the children of your dead brother and show them your love. They don't have a lot of people, family-wise, that they're close to. When Nona tried to get close, it didn't go well, and it was all about money. It would be nice if it could be about the Gaye family being family."

swhitall@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/swhitall
« Last Edit: Feb 17th, 2013, 11:02am by timmy84 » User IP Logged

"If I can't be honest with myself, I can't be honest about anything." -- Marvin Gaye (1939-1984)

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xx Re: Janis calls out on "utterly exploitative" play
« Reply #1 on: Feb 17th, 2013, 5:58pm »

Great article and i'm looking forward to reading her book when that comes out. I'm a little surprised she didn't like Michael Eric Dyson's book on Marvin. I thought it was (mostly) even handed. He at least didn't try to go for the psychobabble like other books have. Of course she'd know way more about the truth than lil' old me so I'll take her word on it smiley

I didn't know that Marvin has a younger brother who lives in DC. I've heard about Michael but definitely not Antuan. I'm also glad to hear that Anna is doing well especially after reports here and elsewhere that said she was in failing health.

It's indeed tragic that the larger Gaye family can't come to terms and bury the hatchet. I don't know why his sister and others would harbor such ill feeling towards Jan. I guess that's something that'll be revealed in her book.
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xx Re: Janis calls out on "utterly exploitative" play
« Reply #2 on: Feb 17th, 2013, 10:48pm »

Yeah I deleted the info about Anna because looking back, it seems like it was just rumors. But she's right about the Gordy family's longevity in age! Look at Berry. Dude just turned 83 last year and he looks 63! I did see a current pic of Anna at 91 (in boots!) and she looks 71. Anna and Zeola didn't get along either from what I read somewhere else online but I bet Anna and Janis got along in spite of everything. smiley
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The ultimate MG blog: http://mrmarvinpentzgayejr.tumblr.com/
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xx Re: Janis calls out on "utterly exploitative" play
« Reply #3 on: Feb 22nd, 2013, 02:25am »

I agree, the Gordy's have always looked great for their age. At least 20yrs younger. If I could recall their father lived to at least 100 years old, and never looked a day of it. Good Genes smiley
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xx Re: Janis calls out on "utterly exploitative" play
« Reply #4 on: Feb 24th, 2013, 08:49am »

Great message Jan. How can they not treat his children like family? Zeola seems like a loving women, but why not accept all of Marvin's family as they are. How is your relationship with the Gordy's Jan? If you don't mind me asking.
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