Remembering Tammi Terrell

We lost Tammi Terrell today in 1970. During her brief prime, she was one of Motown’s brightest stars, recording million selling duets with Marvin Gaye.

Born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery on April 29, 1945, in Philadelphia, Tammi Terrell was discovered by singer-songwriter-producer Luther Dixon at age 15. She recorded as Tammy Montgomery and toured as a backup singer with James Brown’s touring band.

Her early efforts didn’t produce any hits and Tammi decided enter college with the intention of studying medicine. But the music bug had bitten. It was while on tour with Jerry Butler that Motown’s Berry Gordy saw her sing at Detroit’s 20 Grand Nightclub. He signed her to the label in 1965.

Gordy, ever the star-maker gave her the name Tammi Terrell, a moniker he felt amplified her natural sex appeal. She toured with the Motown review and developed a relationship with Temptations, lead singer David Ruffin. The headaches she first experienced as a child grew in intensity, but Tammi shouldered on. teaming up with Marvin Gaye to record Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”The song took off, peaking at No. 8 on Keener in May of 1967. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell charted seven times on WKNR,  with classics like “Your Precious Love,” “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing“.

It was during a tour in support of their debut lP, “United” that Tammi fainted on stage at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College on Oct. 14, 1967. Doctors diagnosed a malignant brain tumor and several surgeries followed.

Tammi Terrell continued to record. Her only solo collection, “Irresistible” came out in 1969, but by then, she was too sick to tour in support of the release. Her final performance happened that year at New York’s legendary Apollo Theater. Tammi Terrell died on March 16, 1970. She was 24.

Marvin Gaye never got over her death. Many credit his descent into depression and drug use to her loss. In addition to her involvement with David Ruffin, she had a tempestuous relationship with James Brown and a reported affair with Sam Cooke. She was married to D. Ernest Garrett at the time of her death.

Tammi Terrell still lives on CD.  “Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection” was released in 2010 and is a nearly complete canon of her work.

Today in History:

The Absent Minded Professor

1947: U.S. First Daughter Margaret Truman made her professional radio debut singing with the Detroit Symphony.
1961: ‘The Absent Minded Professor,’ starring Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olsen, Keenan Wynn, and Tommy Kirk, opened in theaters.
1962: Bobby Vinton recorded ‘Roses Are Red (My Love).’
1963: The Peter, Paul & Mary single, ‘Puff The Magic Dragon,’ debuted on the Billboard Hot 100. It was banned by several radio stations whose management thought the song was about the joys of smoking marijuana. The group has always denied the allegation.
1964: Alan Freed was charged with tax evasion in a grand jury indictment stemming from the earlier payola investigation that ruined the career of the ex-disc jockey.
1964: The Beatles released the single ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ b/w ‘You Can’t Do That’ in the U.S.
1968: U.S. troops in Vietnam destroyed a village consisting mostly of women and children. The event is known as the My-Lai massacre.
1968: U.S. Senator (D-NY) Robert F. Kennedy announced his presidential campaign.
1971: The Jackson 5 released the single ‘Never Can Say Goodbye.’
1972: John Lennon was served with deportation papers. He immediately lodged an appeal with the U.S. Immigration office in New York.
1979: Paul McCartney‘s concert film ‘Wings Over the World’ aired on CBS-TV. In 2013, it was released on DVD as part of the deluxe edition of the ‘Wings Over America’ album.
1983: Radio-TV show host (Arthur Godfrey And His Friends, Arthur Godfrey Time, Talent Scouts) Arthur Godfrey died of emphysema at the age of 79.
1985: Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson was taken hostage in Beirut. He was released in December 1991.
1985: Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain was convicted of racketeering (including loan sharking), conspiracy, extortion and cocaine possession with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison. After nearly 2½ years of incarceration, McLain was released because of a judicial error.
1993: Singer (Cinnamon as Derek, Mr. Bass Man)/songwriter (Mary In The Morning) Johnny Cymbal died of a heart attack at age 48.
1999: The Eagles‘ ‘Greatest Hits 1971-1975’ album was the first recipient of the RIAA’s Diamond Award certification, signifying ten million records sold.
2002: Liza Minnelli married her fourth husband, concert promoter David Gest. Michael Jackson served as best man and Elizabeth Taylor was matron of honor. The marriage lasted five years.
2016: Singer/bandleader/actor (Hollywood Homicide, A Man Called Adam, Everything or Nothing) Frank Sinatra, Jr. died of cardiac arrest at 72.
2017: At Buckingham Palace in London, Ray Davies of the Kinks was knighted by Prince Charles.

Today’s Birthdays:

Jerry Lewis

1906: Henny Youngman, “Take my wife… Please!” (d. 1998).
1912: Patricia Nixon [Thelma Catherine], Ely Nevada, 1st lady (1968-74)(d. 1993).
1916: Mercedes McCambridge, American actress (All the King’s Men, The Exorcist, Giant), born in Joliet, Illinois (d. 2004)
1926: Jerry Lewis [Joseph Levitch] (Martin and Lewis, MDA Telethon), born in Newark, New Jersey (d. 2017).
1936: Fred Neil, folk-singer / songwriter. (‘Everybody’s Talkin’). (d. 2001).
1940: Chuck Woolery, Ky, TV game show host (Love Connection)
1942: Country singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who writes the oft-recorded “Mr. Bojangles” in 1968, is born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York.
1948: Michael Bruce of the Alice Cooper band is born in Arizona.
1949: Erik Estrada, actor (CHiPs), born in NYC, New York
1950: Matt Irving, bass guitar player (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band).
1951: Kate Nelligan, actress (Bethune, Eye of the Needle), born in London, Ontario
1954: Nancy Wilson of Heart is born in San Francisco, California, to a family that includes older sister (and future bandmate) Ann.
1958: Jorge Ramos, TV anchor, born in Mexico City.

One for the road: My all time favorite Marvin and Tammi duet, “You’re All I Need to Get By.”

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit