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.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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