Open main menu

Tammi Terrell (born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery; April 29, 1945 – March 16, 1970) was an American recording artist, best known as a star singer for Motown Records during the 1960s, most notably for a series of duets with singer Marvin Gaye. Terrell's career began as a teenager, first recording for Scepter/Wand Records, before spending nearly two years as a member of James Brown's Revue, recording for Brown's Try Me label. After a period attending college, Terrell recorded briefly for Checker Records, before signing with Motown in 1965. With Gaye, Terrell scored 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". Terrell's career was interrupted when she collapsed into Gaye's arms as the two performed at a concert at Hampden–Sydney College on October 14, 1967, with Terrell later being diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had eight unsuccessful surgeries before succumbing to the illness on March 16, 1970 at the age of 24.

Tammi Terrell
Tammi duet with Marvin Gaye.jpg
Terrell in 1968
Background information
Birth nameThomasina Winifred Montgomery
Born(1945-04-29)April 29, 1945
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMarch 16, 1970(1970-03-16) (aged 24)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Years active1959–1969
Associated acts



Terrell was born as Thomasina Winifred Montgomery in Philadelphia, to Jennie (née Graham) and Thomas Montgomery. Jennie was an actress and Thomas was a barbershop owner and local politician.[1] Tammi was the elder of two siblings. According to the Unsung documentary, her younger sister Ludie said that they had thought Terrell would be a boy and therefore she would be named after her father.[2] However, when she was born, the parents settled on the name Thomasina, nicknaming her "Tommie".[2] She later changed it to "Tammy" after seeing the film, Tammy and the Bachelor, and hearing its theme song, "Tammy", at the age of 12. Starting around this time, Terrell started to have migraine headaches.[2] While it was not thought to be of significance at the time, family members would later state that these headaches might have been related to her later diagnosis of brain cancer.[2] According to her sister, Terrell's mother was "mentally ill".[2]


Early recordingsEdit

In 1960, Terrell signed under the Wand subsidiary of Scepter Records after being discovered by Luther Dixon, recording the ballad, "If You See Bill", under the name Tammy Montgomery and doing demos for The Shirelles. After another single, Terrell left the label and, after being introduced to James Brown, signed a contract with him and began singing backup for his Revue concert tours. In 1963, she recorded the song "I Cried". Released on Brown's Try Me Records, it became her first charting single, reaching No. 99 on the Billboard Hot 100.[3]

During this time, Tammi became sexually involved in an abusive relationship with James Brown. One night on the road Tammi left Brown after he mercilessly beat her for not watching his entire performance. Bobby Bennett, former member of the Famous Flames, witnessed the assault. "He beat Tammi Terrell terrible. She was bleeding, shedding blood. Tammi left him because she didn't want her butt whipped", said Bennett.[4]

After this tenure ended, Terrell signed with Checker Records and released the Bert Berns-produced "If I Would Marry You", a duet with Jimmy Radcliffe, which Terrell co-composed. Following this relative failure, Terrell announced a semi-retirement from the music business and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania where she majored in pre-med, staying at the school for two years. In the middle of this, Terrell was asked by Jerry Butler to sing with him in a series of shows in nightclubs. After an arrangement was made by Butler to assure Terrell that she could continue her schooling, she began touring with Butler. In April 1965, during a performance at the Twenty Grand Club in Detroit, she was spotted by Motown CEO Berry Gordy, who promised to sign her to Motown.[5] Terrell agreed and signed with the label on April 29, her 20th birthday. Before releasing her first single with Motown's Tamla subsidiary, "I Can't Believe You Love Me", Gordy suggested a name change.[citation needed]

Figuring "Tammy Montgomery" was too long of a name to put on a single, Gordy changed it to "Tammi Terrell". He felt this name screamed "sex appeal". "I Can't Believe You Love Me" became Terrell's first R&B top forty single, followed almost immediately by "Come On and See Me". In 1966, Terrell recorded two future classics, Stevie Wonder's "All I Do (Is Think About You)" and The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)". Terrell joined the Motortown Revue after the release of her first single. During a tour in which she opened for The Temptations, Terrell met the band's lead singer David Ruffin and embarked on a torrid romance. In 1966, David surprised her with a marriage proposal. However, Tammi was devastated once she discovered that he had a wife, three children and another girlfriend in Detroit. This led to them having many public fights. Tammi ended their relationship in 1967 after he hit her in the head with his motorcycle helmet. There are also rumors reported by others in Detroit such as by Ruffin's former road manager that Ruffin also hit Terrell in the head with a hammer, which further complicated her unknown condition.

Success with Marvin GayeEdit

In early 1967, Motown hired Terrell to sing duets with Marvin Gaye, who had achieved duet success with Mary Wells and Kim Weston as well as having recorded duets with Oma Heard. During recording sessions, Gaye would recall later that he did not know how gifted Terrell was until they began singing together.[2] At first the duets were recorded separately. For sessions of their first recording, the Ashford & Simpson composition, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", both Gaye and Terrell recorded separate versions. Motown remixed the vocals and edited out the background vocals, giving just Gaye and Terrell vocal dominance. The song became a crossover pop hit in the spring of 1967, reaching No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the R&B charts and making Terrell a star. Their follow-up, "Your Precious Love", became an even bigger hit, reaching No. 5 on the pop chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart. At the end of the year, the duo scored another top ten single with "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You", which peaked at No. 10 on the pop chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart. The song's B-side, the Marvin Gaye composition "If This World Were Mine", became a modest hit on both charts (No. 68 pop, No. 27 R&B). Gaye would later cite the song as "one of Tammi's favorites". All four songs were included on Gaye and Terrell's first duet album, United, released in the late summer of 1967. Throughout that year, Gaye and Terrell began performing together and Terrell became a vocal and performance inspiration for the shy and laid-back Gaye, who hated live performing. The duo also performed together on television shows to their hits.

Cancer diagnosisEdit

While Terrell was finally being established as a star, the migraines and headaches she had suffered from childhood were becoming more constant. While she complained of pains, she insisted to people close to her that she was well enough to perform. However, on October 14, 1967, while performing with Gaye at Hampden–Sydney College,[6] just outside the town of Farmville, Virginia, Terrell fell onstage; Gaye quickly responded by grabbing her by the arms and helping her offstage.[7] Shortly after returning from Virginia, doctors diagnosed a malignant tumor on the right side of her brain.

External audio
  You may listen to Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye sing "Ain't no Mountain High Enough" on YouTube

After recovering from her first surgery, Terrell returned to Hitsville studios in Detroit and recorded "You're All I Need to Get By". Both that song and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing", reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. Despite Terrell's optimism, her tumor worsened requiring more surgeries. By 1969, Terrell had retired from live performances as she had been ordered by doctors not to perform due to her tumors. Motown issued Terrell's first and only solo album, Irresistible, in early 1969. Terrell was too ill to promote the recordings. There was no new repertoire on the album: all tracks had been recorded earlier and had subsequently been shelved for some time.

Both Marvin Gaye and Valerie Simpson gave different stories on how the production of Terrell's and Gaye's third album together, Easy, went about. According to reports, Terrell had gotten so ill from her operations that she could not record, and Motown opted to have Valerie Simpson sub in for Terrell, a report that was repeated in the book Marvin Gaye: What's Going On and the Last Days of the Motown Sound.[8] Gaye would later say the move was "another moneymaking scheme on BG's [Berry Gordy's] part".[9] Valerie Simpson, on the other hand, stated that the ailing Terrell was brought into the studio when she was strong enough to record over Simpson's guide vocals, insisting Terrell had sung on the album.[10] Easy produced the singles "Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By", "What You Gave Me", "California Soul" and the UK top ten hit, "The Onion Song". Late in 1969, Terrell made her final public appearance at the Apollo Theater where Marvin Gaye was performing.[2] As soon as Gaye spotted Terrell, he rushed to her side and the duo began singing "You're All I Need to Get By" together.[2] They were given a standing ovation by the public.


By early 1970, Terrell was confined to a wheelchair, suffered from blindness, hair loss, and weighed only 93 pounds (42 kg). Following her eighth and final operation on January 21, 1970, Terrell went into a coma. She died on March 16 from complications from brain cancer, a month shy of her 25th birthday. Terrell's funeral was held at the Janes Methodist Church in Philadelphia.[11] At the funeral, Gaye delivered a final eulogy while "You're All I Need to Get By" was playing. According to Terrell's fiancé Dr. Ernest "Ernie" Garrett, who knew Gaye, her mother angrily barred everyone at Motown from her funeral, except for Gaye, whom she felt was Terrell's closest friend.

Gaye never fully got over Terrell's death, according to several biographers who have stated that Terrell's death led Gaye to depression and drug abuse. In addition, Gaye's classic album What's Going On, an introspective, low-key work which dealt with mature themes released in 1971, was in part a reaction to Terrell's death.[12]


Studio albumsEdit

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label

1967 The Early Show (with Chuck Jackson) [A] Wand
United (with Marvin Gaye) 69 7 Tamla
1968 You're All I Need (with Marvin Gaye) 60 4
1969 Irresistible 39 Motown
Easy (with Marvin Gaye) 184 Tamla
"—" denotes recordings that did not chart or were not released.
  • A Side A is by Terrell, side B is by Jackson

Compilation albumsEdit

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label

1970 Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's Greatest Hits 171 17 60 Tamla
1980 Superstar Series Volume 2 (with Marvin Gaye) Motown
2000 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
2001 The Essential Collection Spectrum
The Complete Duets (with Marvin Gaye) Motown
2010 Come On and See Me: The Complete Solo Collection Hip-O Select
2011 Icon: Love Songs (with Marvin Gaye) Motown
"—" denotes recordings that did not chart or were not released.


Year Title Peak chart positions Album

1961 "If You See Bill" [B] The Early Show
1962 "Voice of Experience" [B]
1963 "I Cried" [B] 99 Non-album single
1964 "If I Would Marry You" [B]
1965 "I Can't Believe You Love Me" 72 27 Irresistible
1966 "Come On and See Me" 80 25
1967 "What a Good Man He Is"
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (with Marvin Gaye) 19 3 63 80 United
"Your Precious Love" (with Marvin Gaye) 5 2 92
"If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" (with Marvin Gaye) 10 2 72 41
1968 "If This World Were Mine" (with Marvin Gaye) 68 27
"Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (with Marvin Gaye) 8 1 9 34 You're All I Need
"You're All I Need to Get By" (with Marvin Gaye) 7 1 10 19
"Keep On Lovin' Me Honey" (with Marvin Gaye) 24 11 27
"This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" 67 31 89 Irresistible
1969 "You Ain't Livin' till You're Lovin'" (with Marvin Gaye) 21 You're All I Need
"Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By" (with Marvin Gaye) [17] 30 11 65 26 Easy
"What You Gave Me" (with Marvin Gaye) [17] 49 6
"The Onion Song" (with Marvin Gaye) [17] 50 18 9
1970 "California Soul" (with Marvin Gaye) [17] 56 79 87
"—" denotes recordings that did not chart or were not released.
  • B Credited to Tammy Montgomery.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Tammi Terrell". Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Tammi Terrell: Unsung, TV One, 2011
  3. ^ "Billboard Hot 100 Chart History for I Cried by Tammi Terrell". 1963-08-17. Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  4. ^ Goldberg, Michael (April 6, 1989). "James Brown: Wrestling With the Devil". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  5. ^ Washington 2004.
  6. ^ "This Day In History: Motown soul singer Tammi Terrell dies". A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
  7. ^ Tinsley, Justin How Marvin Gaye's NFL tryout changed his career ESPN. August 31, 2015
  8. ^ Edmonds 2003, p. 25.
  9. ^ Posner 2006, pp. 184.
  10. ^ The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 9: 1969, Motown/Hip-O Select, 2008, p.109
  11. ^ Thousands attend Last Rites. Jet. April 9, 1970. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  12. ^ Jason Ankeny. "Tammi Terrell | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "US Charts > Tammi Terrell". Billboard. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  14. ^ a b "UK Charts > Tammi Terrell". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  15. ^ David Kent (1993). Australian Charts Book 1970—1992. Australian Chart Book Pty Ltd, Turramurra, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  16. ^ "CAN Charts > Tammi Terrell". RPM. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  17. ^ a b c d These songs are credited to Terrell but several sources say Valerie Simpson filled in on several whole songs or parts of where Terrell couldn't finish because of her health. Gaye said that Berry Gordy came up with the idea of Simpson filling in for the very ill Terrell, but Ludie Montgomery (Terrell's younger sister) says in her book, My Sister Tommie: The Real Tammi Terrell that it is Terrell who is heard and not Simpson.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit