Alberta Gay

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Alberta Gay
Born Alberta Williams Cooper
January 1, 1913
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Died May 9, 1987(1987-05-09) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death
Bone cancer
Occupation Domestic
Spouse(s) Marvin Gay, Sr. (m. 1935–1984; divorced)
Children Michael (born 1933)
Jeanne Gay (b. 1937)
Marvin Gaye (1939–1984)
Frankie Gaye (1941–2001)
Zeola "Sweetsie" Gaye (b. 1945)

Alberta Cooper Gay (January 1, 1913 – May 9, 1987) was a domestic worker and the mother of American recording artist Marvin Gaye. Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, she married Gaye's father, minister Marvin Gay, Sr. after relocating to Washington, D.C. in her early twenties. She was the only other person present in the murder of her son committed by his father.


Early life[edit]

Alberta was born Alberta Williams Cooper on New Year's Day, 1913, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.[1] Alberta's childhood was troubled while growing up in North Carolina. Her father once shot at her mother during an argument.[2] He'd later die in a psychiatric hospital.[2] Alberta told David Ritz that she felt she really didn't have a father. Her family didn't put her in a school until she was eight years old.[2]

At twenty years of age, she had a son, Michael, out of wedlock. As a result, her mother sent her to live with a relative in Washington, D.C. In D.C., Alberta met minister Marvin Gay, in 1934.[2] After a year of courtship, the couple married on July 2, 1935.[2] The young couple first settled at an apartment located at 1617 First Street SW, only a few blocks from the Anacostia River. The First Street neighborhood was nicknamed "Simple City" owing to its being "half city, half country".[3][4]

Due to his belief he couldn't raise another man's child, Marvin Gay eventually sent Alberta's son Michael to live with Alberta's sister Pearl.[2] Michael Cooper later learned Alberta was his mother as a teen, according to Alberta's daughter, Jeanne. Allegedly, when Michael began living with his half-siblings, he had told young Marvin to stand up against his father's abuse, when he did, Marvin Gay, Sr. responded by sending Michael to live with his aunt, Zeola, another one of Alberta's sisters, in Detroit. However, Jeanne Gay said Michael Cooper was moved to Detroit without the alleged confrontation between father and son.[4]

Family life[edit]

With Marvin Gay, Sr., Alberta had four children. The first, Mable Jeanne, was born in 1937. Marvin, Jr. followed on April 2, 1939. A younger son, Frances "Frankie", followed in November 1941, with a younger daughter, Zeola (named after her aunt), following in 1945. With her husband, she converted to her husband's strict House of God sect, a Christian sect that took its teachings from Hebrew Pentecostalism.[5] Since her husband barely worked jobs, Alberta worked as a domestic worker, cleaning houses in the Maryland and Virginia areas to provide income for her family.[6]

Alberta often found herself caught up in the middle of her husband's level of brutal "disciplining" of their children. She also confided that her husband hated young Marvin. She told Ritz in 1979, "My husband never wanted Marvin. And he never liked him. He used to say he didn't think he was really his child. I told him that was nonsense. He knew Marvin was his. But for some reason, he didn't love Marvin and, what's worse, he didn't want me to love Marvin either. Marvin wasn't very old before he understood that."[7] By the end of her husband's ministerial period, he developed an addiction to alcohol and began developing an interest in crossdressing. Alberta later explained that her husband "liked soft clothing. Soft things of all kinds attracted him. He liked to wear my panties, my shoes, my gowns, even my nylon hose. Marvin saw him like that sometimes."[6]

When asked if she had thought of leaving her husband, Alberta admitted she did but "felt sorry" for her husband due to his own abusive upbringing.[4] Her daughter Jeanne stated her mother's strong beliefs in the House of God religion kept her from divorcing her father.[8] Marvin Gaye would say of his mother as someone who "lived by principles".[8] Of his mother, Marvin said, "her kindness and generosity were legendary. She took in people and fed neighbors, even when we were still dirt poor. The woman suffered so, and yet her suffering seemed to make her stronger. The older I've gotten, the more I've wished that all women were like my mother."[8] In comparison of his volatile relationship with his father, Gaye said, "if it wasn't for Mother, who was always there to console me and praise my singing, I think I would have been one of those child suicide cases you read about in the papers."[4]

When Gaye married his first wife, Anna, his duet partner and friend Kim Weston said that Anna reminded him strongly of his mother.[9] Gaye continually supported his mother throughout his life. In 1975, he gave up rights to a residence at 2101 Gramercy Place in Western Heights at the West Adams district to his mother.[10][11] By 1979, Marvin had moved his belongings there and David Ritz interviewed him at the house that year as they worked on a biography. Noting of her son's battle with depression, Alberta spent months with her son in Maui and in London.[12] In October 1982, Alberta Gay was rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles after falling critically ill to a kidney infection that required surgery.[13] Her sons Marvin and Frankie rushed from Belgium to be by her side.[13] During Gaye's final years alive, he and Alberta slept together at Alberta's bedroom. Around that time, Gaye's parents had virtually separated with Marvin Gay, Sr. sleeping in an adjacent bedroom a few blocks away from Alberta's.[14]

Son's death[edit]

Main article: Death of Marvin Gaye

On March 31, 1984, Alberta and her husband had an argument over misplaced business documents, including an important insurance policy, for which Alberta was blamed for misplacing.[15] When the argument spilled over to Marvin's bedroom, Marvin awoke from a sleep and immediately took his mother's side, demanding his father to leave her alone. Gay, Sr. left the room without incident that afternoon but, according to Alberta, carried on rambling through the house.[16] The next day, April 1, the arguments started again. This time, Gay, Sr. yelled for his wife to come downstairs from Marvin's room. Marvin again intervened, telling his father if he wanted to talk to her to do it directly. When Gay, Sr. refused, Marvin warned him to not come in his room. Ignoring Marvin's demands, Gay, Sr. marched to his room to argue with Alberta, prompting a despondent and angry Marvin to yell at him, and then pushed and shoved him out of the room into the hallway. According to Alberta, Marvin hit his father and also kicked him.[17] Alberta eventually convinced her son to leave his father's room. At approximately 12:38 am, Marvin Sr. returned to Marvin's room carrying an unlicensed .38 Smith & Wesson caliber pistol that Marvin had given him as a Christmas present, shooting Marvin in his right chest area, the shot perforating his vital organs, including his heart, proved to be fatal. Marvin was shot again at point-blank range after the shot. Alberta had already ran out of the room following the first shot and pleaded for her husband to not shoot her next.[17] Marvin Gaye later died from his wounds after arriving at the California Hospital Medical Center.[18]

Final years[edit]

Following her son's murder, Alberta Gay filed for divorce from her husband after posting a bond to bail him out of jail after his arrest for his son's murder.[19] At her son's funeral, she kissed her son on his forehead.[20] Alberta struggled with bone cancer for the remainder of her life and was taken care of by her daughter Jeanne at Jeanne's Burbank home. In 1986, Alberta founded the Marvin P. Gaye, Jr. Memorial Foundation in dedication to her son to help people with drug and alcohol problems.[21] Before the memorial opened, however, she died on May 9, 1987 at 74 after years with bone cancer.[21]


  1. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 5-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ritz 1991, p. 6.
  3. ^ Gaye 2003, p. 3.
  4. ^ a b c d Ritz 1991, p. 13.
  5. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 5-11.
  6. ^ a b Ritz 1991, p. 19.
  7. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 6-7.
  8. ^ a b c Ritz 1991, p. 20.
  9. ^ What's Going On: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye
  10. ^ "Marvin Gaye House". Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  11. ^ Dial Them For Murder. Los Angeles Magazine. Jan 1998. Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
  12. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 265-280.
  13. ^ a b Gaye 2003, p. 148.
  14. ^ Ritz 1991, p. 330.
  15. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 330-332.
  16. ^ Ritz 1991, p. 332.
  17. ^ a b Ritz 1991, p. 333.
  18. ^ Ritz 1991, p. 334.
  19. ^ Ritz 1991, p. 338.
  20. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 335-336.
  21. ^ a b Jet 1987, p. 57.