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Janis Hunter Gaye, the second wife of Motown legend Marvin Gaye and the inspiration for several of his songs, died Saturday of an undisclosed cause at her home in Rhode Island, her family announced. She was 66.
Hunter Gaye was introduced to the singer by producer Ed Townsend during a 1973 recording session at Hitsville West in Los Angeles for his album Let’s Get It On, which was released that year. Gaye at the time was married to Anna Gordy, the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy; Hunter Gaye was 17, he was 34.
Gaye wrote the song “Jan” for his future wife and recorded it for his 1974 album, Marvin Gaye Live!, and his 1976 album, I Want You, has been described as “a romantic and erotic tribute” to her. His 1977 disco single, “Got to Give It Up,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, featured her on background vocals. They were married that year.
According to her family, Hunter Gaye put together the iconic outfit — red watch cap, beaded denim shirt and silver red-laced platform boots— that Gaye donned for his memorable 1974 concert performance at the Oakland Coliseum.
The pair were married from 1977 until their 1981 divorce. He died three years later after being shot by his father in Los Angeles. Her memoir, After the Dance: My Life With Marvin Gaye, was published in 2015.
Hunter Gaye was the daughter of singer-musician Slim Gaillard, known for hits including “Flat Foot Floogie (With a Floy Floy).” She also managed the career of her daughter, Nona Gaye, a singer and actress with credits including Ali, Crash and two Matrix films.
“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,” Nona Gaye said in a statement. “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.”
Survivors also include son Frankie, sister Shawnn, brother Mark and grandson Nolan.
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