Singer and songwriter Tammi Terrell's star burned bright in her short career, one marked by abuse and tragedy yet she remains a popular artist 45 years after her death.
From Philadelphia, two things happened that would positively and negatively affect her life: she was found to have immense talent and was also often subdued by intense migraine headaches (the latter of which started happening after she was raped by neighborhood boys, later convicted, at 11). She hit the road as a teenager with Patti LaBelle and Gary US Bonds and recorded for Wand and Chess Records subsidiary Checker. She sang back-up with the James Brown Revue, also cutting a minor hit single in '63 ("I Cried") that was produced by JB. She walked off the Revue when James allegedly became abusive during their personal/romantic relationship.
She signed with Motown in '65 and quickly became musical partners with Marvin Gaye. Both singers had previously worked in duet (Terrell with Jimmy Radcliffe & Jerry Butler, Gaye with Kim Weston, Mary Wells and Oma Heard) and they found instant chemistry. Gaye found her to be a level above the others with her talent, stage presence and professionalism, all of which fit the shy Gaye. Not only did they have huge hits on stage but they became very close friends off stage. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was a huge hit but Tammi's migraines became more severe. She collapsed onstage into Gaye's arms during a concert in Virginia in '67 and a brain tumor was discovered, necessitating surgery. After her first surgery they continued on, cutting two more smash hits ("Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing", "You're All I Need To Get By") before more health problems interfered. She ended up retiring in '69 and paralyzed in 1970 before she died at age 24. Gaye was devastated and the music world lost a great talent much too young.