If you were to ask me “What’s Going On,” I would say the Marvin Gaye play, “My Brother Marvin,” co-produced and written by Zeola Gaye, Marvin’s sister. The play is being presented at the Beacon Theatre, located at 2124 Broadway (74th St) in New York, on April 11 through April 14. Presently on a 22-city tour, Zeola took the time to chat.
“My brother was passionate, loving, kind and giving. He had a sense of humor off the charts. And yes, he had a temper. He wasn’t perfect. None of us are. Marvin was very spiritual however. He had his ups and downs, but his good outweighed his bad,” remarked Zeola who wrote a book bearing the same title as the play.
Writing “My Brother Marvin,” was cathartic. Sometimes it’s hard to discuss unpleasant things but I felt if I could not be honest and truthful, why write the book” explained Zeola. “My purpose was to try to get people to understand how difficult it is when someone is under the influence of drugs. I would say most people normally would not do the things they do while under substance abuse. Please understand, I am not apologizing for what went on with my family. I am only telling you what happened and giving background into how things were so you understand some of the struggles my family went through” continued the author.
Marvin didn’t take drugs prior to getting into entertainment. There were a lot of demands upon him to create good music that sometimes found him working night and day. He was exhausted. Someone brought drugs into the studio to help him stay awake so Marvin tried them. The drugs kept him alert and before long Marvin got hooked and began the long spiral into drug abuse.
Marvin dreamed about being successful so he could make life more pleasant for his family. And, he did. However, despite the fact Marvin made a lot of money, he had poor business management and other marital pressures that drove Marvin to thoughts of suicide. Marvin had pressures with the IRS, dealing with crooked promoters, personal problems with his wife Jan and struggles with his father.
“Marvin could be rebellious and hard headed, but he was really a genius. I believe God put that genius in Marvin at an early age. The conflicts with father and Marvin started in teenage years. Marvin always felt protective of my mother and he didn’t agree with some of the things that went on between our father and the way he sometimes treated my mother,” explained Zeola, who mentioned in her book, her father’s jealousy that led to peculiar ideas about Marvin and his mother but had no basis in reality.
“As kids we grew up in SW Washington DC. Our family was religious with my father working as a bishop in the Pentecostal Church. We were close knit and had a pretty good childhood; although my father was a strict disciplinarian and an alcoholic. We thought at the time alcohol accounted for his mood swings. But my father was not abusive. Sure, if we did something wrong he would spank us. My father was a father, not a Daddy. It was difficult for my father to accept that Marvin became the breadwinner. Although we enjoyed the change in lifestyle, my father sometimes resented Marvin’s success. After Marvin was killed it was discovered my father had a brain tumor that pressed on the emotional side of his brain, so that may have been the real cause of my father’s actions.”
Singing defined Marvin who used to hang out and sing under street lights. Eventually, his group, the Moonglows, met Berry Gordy. The rest is history. Marvin later married Gordy’s sister Anna, a woman several years his senior. After their divorce, Marvin later married Jan, his second wife. Though Marvin loved Jan with all his heart, their marriage was stormy.
“My Brother Marvin,” is not a musical, it’s a drama. None of Marvin’s music is in the play. I tried to license it but could not get it. But there is music in the play. There are sad parts, funny parts and very entertaining parts. Lynn Whitfield plays my mother, Tony Grant the young Marvin and Keith Washington, the older Marvin during his drug period. Marvin’s paranoia from drugs and its affect on him was no laughing matter. This play talks about the man behind the music and my family. I provide closure and tell what really happened the day Marvin died. Only my mother was there at the time of the shooting. I can tell you what I know happened and why it happened. I do so in my book and show. You’ll have to read the book and see the play to learn more. It’s important to know background and understand the dynamics, so you see what led up to the fateful day of Marvin’s shooting. Marvin, Frankie, my father and I were hooked on alcohol and drugs. My sister and mother never were. I was on drugs but I have been clean 11 years. I arranged for Marvin to get help but he got shot the day before he was supposed to go into rehab,” stated the former drug user. “Every day is a struggle to stay clean. One has to want to seriously quit drugs. Crack for example, is the deepest drug ever to hit the streets. You totally lose all control. That’s the one I used and it’s the one that brought me down until I finally said I can’t do this any more,” stated Marvin’s sister.
“I do encourage folks to come to my play and read my book. I will say this -- my father was arrested for killing Marvin and charged with manslaughter. An examination discovered my father’s brain tumor and it was removed. My parents did not divorce but they never lived together again after that night.”