Janis “Jan” Hunter Gaye, the second wife of soul singer Marvin Gaye and the inspiration behind some of his big hits in the late 1970s, has died at the age of 66.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, her family confirmed that she passed away from undisclosed causes at her home in Rhode Island on Saturday, December 3.
The daughter of singer-musician Slim Gaillard, known for the song “Flat Foot Floogie (With a Floy Floy),” Hunter Gaye met Marvin in 1973. She was introduced to the Motown legend by producer Ed Townsend during the recording sessions of Gaye’s Let’s Get It On album. Gaye, who was 34 and married to Anna Gordy (Berry’s sister) at the time, became infatuated with the then 17-year-old Jan. As a result, she served as the muse behind most of the album, including the sensuous title track.
In addition, Jan served as the inspiration for a namesake track on Marvin’s 1974 Marvin Gaye: Live! album and the songs featured on his 1976 follow-up release, I Want You.
The pair’s relationship developed quickly, marrying in 1977, shortly after Marvin’s divorce from Anna Gordy was finalized. However, as Hunter Gaye detailed in her 2015 memoir After The Dance, the marriage fell apart due to Gaye’s struggles with drug addiction, which led to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
“I wouldn’t say it was a Svengali [like relationship] but he had to have a partner to engage with,” she explained in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb. “I just happened to be that partner. Even that young, at 17, I could have gone home. I could have walked away. It was my choice. I can’t lay the blame at Marvin’s feet for things that might be uncomfortable or tumultuous for the reader.”
Despite the couple’s divorce in 1981, Hunter Gaye still had kind thoughts for her former love and would continue to help preserve his musical legacy following his 1984 death.
In later years, Hunter Gaye would manage the career of her daughter, singer/actress Nona Gaye, whose credits include Ali, Crash, and the Matrix franchise. In a statement, Nona said, “From the time she met my father, she was exposed to the way he saw this world was aching, and she did her best to preserve his legacy as he was taken from us far too early. She took every moment to speak about every word and every note of his music, and she wanted to make sure everyone knew the man she fell in love with. I will never get to see her again in this life but know she’s in heaven with my father and a spokesperson for us in spirit.”
In addition to her daughter, Jan Hunter Gaye is survived by son Frankie, sister Shawnn, brother Mark and grandson Nolan. A public memorial is to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations in her honor can be made to Arms Around the Child, Breathe With Me Revolution and/or Fund a Mom.
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