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Black Ensemble Theater spotlights Marvin Gaye’s music, complex life

Rashawn Thompsstars as title character 'The MarvGaye Story' Black Ensemble Theater.

Rashawn Thompson stars as the title character in "The Marvin Gaye Story" at Black Ensemble Theater.

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‘Don’t Talk About My Father Because God Is My Friend’

◆ May 20-July 29

◆ Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark

◆ Tickets, $55-$65

◆ (773) 769-4451;

Updated: May 29, 2012 4:27PM

What is more enduring about the way Marvin Gaye died is the way he lived.

Gaye was the most socially conscious songwriter and peformer out of the Motown stable. His songs, such as “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” may be more powerful today than when Gaye recorded them in 1970.

Gaye’s father Marvin Gaye Sr. fatally shot the soul singer in April, 1984 after an argument. Gaye was 44-years-old.

The soulful singer is the subject of the Black Ensemble Theater’s newest musical production, “The Marvin Gaye Story (Don’t Talk About My Father Because God Is My Friend),” which makes its world premiere May 20 at the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4550 N. Clark. The show was written, produced and directed by theater founder, Jackie Taylor.

The production has the blessing of Jan Gaye, who was married to Marvin from 1977 through 1981.

“There was another (Black Ensemble) play that was supposed to take place that was a little less complementary to Marvin and his memory,” Gaye said in a candid interview from her Rhode Island home. “Jackie [Taylor] changed the perception of the story. It could have been a musical revue, it could have been a love story. Jackie has a great spirit. What drove her was to tell a story that’s not sensationalizing his murder, which is what so many want to do. People immediately want to go into the death. Of course it has to be addressed because it is a historical fact, but the way Jackie handled it by putting it at the beginning to get it out of the way is incredible.”

Gaye is no stranger to the work of the Black Ensemble Theater. She was even factored into “I Am Who I Am (The Story of Teddy Pendergrass),” which premiered at the Black Ensemble in March, 2008. Marvin Gaye considered Pendergrass a rival, right down to the way Pendergrass grew a similar beard. Jan Gaye even dated Pendergrass for a brief period.

“Teddy invited me to see his play open,” Gaye said. “He and I got into a bit of a tiff because he used my name and Marvin’s name in the play. He didn’t let me know bbeforehand. So I was ticked and ended up not going. But Jackie and I talked about ‘The Jackie Wilson Story,’ and I heard nothing but great reviews from friends in Chicago.”

Taylor said, “The time is always right for Marvin Gaye. His music wasn’t about a time period. It was about the same issues we are facing today.”

Jan Gaye met Marvin through an ex-boyfriend of her mother’s at Mowest (Motown West) Studios in Los Angeles. Gaye is also the daughter of the late hipster jazz cat and guitarist Slim Gaillard, who combined a keen ear with goofy jive language like “vout” and “oreennee.”

“My Dad worked security for Marvin at the studio,” she said. “He would travel on the road with us. Slim used to try to get him to do some of his music and Marvin would placate him. They might record something and it would magically dissapear. [But] They got along well. There’s a book being written about Slim. The Jack Kerouac film ‘On the Road’ that is coming out in August is using two of Slim’s songs [and] Coati Mundi is playing Slim in the movie. The sad thing is that Slim came into my life after I met Marvin. But he was very proud to say Marvin Gaye was his son-in-law.” (Marvin Gaye’s first wife was Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna, whom he married in 1964 when he was 24 and she was 42. She filed for divorce in 1975.)

“The Marvin Gaye Story” features 15 songs (Taylor said she worked with Jan Gaye and others to obtain the rights.), including two originals penned by Taylor. It has been reported Jan Gaye was the inspiration for the timelessly sultry “Let’s Get It On” which is included in the play. The song was written by Gaye and Ed Townsend.

“I don’t know if I was the inspiration,” she said. “The lyrical content and production had nothing to do with me. I met Marvin while he was making the album (in 1973). When they started on the record they weren’t getting anything out of Marvin. Once he and I met he had this renewed sense of creativity and the sexuality came out like a roaring river.”

Gaye said she will be in attendance on the play’s opening night.

“Marvin mentions Chicago in a number of songs he sang, and I love Chicago,” Gaye said. “From what I’ve heard the play is very good. There was a play that went all over Europe and I knew nothing about it until it was done. A lot of times people won’t license Marvin’s music through the proper channels. There is no [Marvin Gaye] estate. Marvin’s three children and three grandsons are the heirs. That’s his family. Not the brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles. The estate was dissolved years ago.”

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