The Beauty and Tragedy of Tammy Terrell

On this day in 1970, superlative Motown songbird Tammi Terrell passes away from a malignant brain tumor at 24. Best known for her duets with the legendary Marvin Gaye, Terrell was born to an actress and barber in Philadelphia, PA.

With undeniable talent, Terrell (nee Montgomery) was signed to Scepter Records in her mid-teens, and worked with Luther Dixon, James Brown and Jimmy Radcliffe before finding her way to Barry Gordy’s Motown Records. After a torrid and abusive relationship with the Temptation’s David Ruffin, Terrell agreed to record a series of duets with Marvin Gaye.

With Gaye, Terrell’s gifts helped score seven Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Sadly, just as this meteoric rise began Terrell’s career was interrupted when she collapsed into Gaye’s arms as the two performed at a concert at Hampden–Sydney College, VA on October 14, 1967. Terrell was diagnosed with the tumor, and given a bleak prognosis; she had eight unsuccessful surgeries before succumbing to the illness on March 16, 1970 at the age of 24.

Heartbroken by the loss, Gaye ceased performing for three years.

Leave a Reply