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Tammi Terrell

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Tammi Terrell
Terrell in 1968
Thomasina Winifred Montgomery

(1945-04-29)April 29, 1945
DiedMarch 16, 1970(1970-03-16) (aged 24)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting placeMount Lawn Cemetery, Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Years active1960–1969
RelativesBob Montgomery (uncle)
Musical career

Thomasina Winifred Montgomery (April 29, 1945 – March 16, 1970), professionally known as Tammi Terrell, was an American singer-songwriter, widely known as a star singer for Motown Records during the 1960s, notably for a series of duets with singer Marvin Gaye.

Terrell began her career as a teenager, first recording for Scepter/Wand Records, before spending nearly nine months as a member of James Brown's Revue, recording for Brown's Try Me label. After attending college, Terrell recorded briefly for Checker Records before signing with Motown in 1965. With Gaye, she scored seven Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999,[1] "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. Terrell was later diagnosed with a brain tumor and had eight unsuccessful surgeries before dying on March 16, 1970, at the age of 24.

Early life[edit]

Thomasina Winifred Montgomery was born in Philadelphia to Jennie, née Graham, and Thomas Montgomery. Jennie was an actress and Thomas was a barbershop owner and local politician.[2] According to her sister, their mother was "mentally ill".[3]

Terrell was the older of two siblings. According to the Unsung documentary, her sister Ludie said her parents thought Terrell would be a boy and, therefore, she would be named after her father.[3] When Terrell was born, the parents settled on the name Thomasina, nicknaming her "Tommie".[3] Terrell later changed it to "Tammy" after seeing the film Tammy and the Bachelor and hearing its theme song, "Tammy", at the age of 12.

According to Ludie's book My Sister Tommie – The Real Tammi Terrell, Terrell was raped by three boys at the age of 11.[4] Around this time, she started to have migraine headaches.[3] While it was not thought to be of significance at the time, family members later stated that these headaches might have been related to her later diagnosis of brain cancer.[3]

Terrell attended Germantown High School in Philadelphia.[5]


Early recordings[edit]

In 1960, Terrell signed under the Wand subsidiary of Scepter Records after being discovered by Luther Dixon. She recording the ballad "If You See Bill" under the name Tammy Montgomery, and did demos for the Shirelles. After another single, Terrell left the label. Having been introduced to James Brown, she signed a contract with him and began singing backup for his Revue concert tours. In 1961, Terrell created the group the Sherrys. In late 1962, she was kicked out due to multiple disputes. Eventually, they went their separate ways, with the Sherrys moving on without Terrell. 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.

Terrell later 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. Terrell enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in pre-med, staying at the school for two years.[5] In the middle of this, Terrell was asked by Jerry Butler to sing with him in a series of shows in nightclubs. After Butler arranged 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.[6]

Terrell agreed and signed with Motown on April 29, 1965, her 20th birthday. "I Can't Believe You Love Me" became Terrell's first R&B top 40 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)". After the release of her first single on Motown, Terrell joined the Motortown Revue opening for the Temptations.

Success with Marvin Gaye[edit]

External audio
audio icon Hear Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye sing "Ain't no Mountain High Enough" on YouTube
Cashbox advertisement, May 27, 1967

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 recalled later that he did not know how gifted Terrell was until they began singing together.[3] The duets were first 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.[7] 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 1967, 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 later cited 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 1967, 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. They were voted the No. 1 R&B duo in Cash Box magazine's Annual Year-End Survey in 1970.[8] In 1967 the Funk Brothers supported Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's live show as backing band.

Cancer diagnosis[edit]

While Terrell was being established as a star, the migraines and headaches she had suffered from since childhood were becoming more constant. While Terrell complained of pain, she insisted to people close to her that she was well enough to perform. However, on October 14, 1967, while performing "Your Precious Love" with Gaye at Hampden–Sydney College,[9][10] just outside the town of Farmville, Virginia, Terrell collapsed into Gaye's arms onstage.[11][12] Shortly after returning from Virginia, doctors diagnosed a malignant tumor on the right side of her brain. Terrell underwent brain surgery at Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia on January 13, 1968.[13]

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 doctors had ordered her 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. The album had no new repertoire: all tracks had been recorded earlier and 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 become so ill due to her operations that she could not record, and Motown opted to have Valerie Simpson sub in for Terrell. This report was repeated in the book Marvin Gaye: What's Going On and the Last Days of the Motown Sound.[14] Gaye would later say the move was "another moneymaking scheme on B.G.'s [Berry Gordy's] part."[15]

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.[16] Easy produced the singles "Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By", "What You Gave Me", "California Soul", and the U.K. top-10 hit "The Onion Song". Late in 1969, Terrell made her final public appearance at the Apollo Theater, where Marvin Gaye performed.[3] 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.[3] The public gave them a standing ovation.

Personal life[edit]

"David [Ruffin] could sometimes be rough on a lady. You hear and see things when you're out on the road like we were. We all knew about Tammi and James Brown. We knew how James Brown was about women that he would flip a woman's ass. And back then, you wouldn't ever get the woman's side so that people would assume, fairly or not, he flipped her ass because she provoked him to."

Otis Williams[17]

In 1962, 17-year-old Terrell became involved in an abusive relationship with James Brown, who was 12 years her senior. One night on the road in 1963, Terrell left Brown after he assaulted her for not watching his entire performance. Bobby Bennett, former member of the Famous Flames, witnessed the incident. "He beat Tammi Terrell terribly. She was bleeding, shedding blood. Tammi left him because she didn't want her butt whipped", said Bennett.[18]

During the Motortown Revue in 1966, Terrell embarked on a torrid romance with The Temptations lead singer David Ruffin.[19] That year, Terrell accepted Ruffin's surprise marriage proposal. After Terrell announced their engagement onstage during an appearance together, she discovered that he was already married.[5]

Ruffin had a wife, three children, and another girlfriend in Detroit. This revelation and Ruffin's drug addiction led to violent arguments. Terrell told Ebony magazine in 1969 that she believed her emotional state during this relationship was a contributing factor to her headaches, which came after quarrels.[5]

In 1967, Terrell ended their relationship after Ruffin hit her in the head with his motorcycle helmet.[17] It was rumored that Ruffin also hit Terrell in the head with a hammer, which further complicated her unknown condition.[20][21] This rumor was disputed in Terrell's Unsung episode.[22]

At the time of Terrell's death, she was engaged to Ernest "Ernie" Garrett.[19] He was a doctor at the hospital where Terrell had been treated.[17]

Illness and death[edit]

Due to ongoing complications resulting from a brain tumor, by early 1970, Terrell was using a wheelchair, experienced blindness and 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 at the age of 24. Terrell's funeral was held at the Janes Methodist Church in Philadelphia.[23]

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, Terrell's mother, Jennie angrily barred everyone at Motown from her funeral, except for Gaye, who she felt was Terrell's closest friend. She blamed most of the label for failing to protect her from David Ruffin during their relationship. Terrell was interred at Mount Lawn Cemetery in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania.[24]

Gaye reportedly 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, his classic album What's Going On, a reflective, low-key work that dealt with mature themes, released in 1971, was in part a reaction to Terrell's death.[25]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Terrell and Marvin Gaye were nominated for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental for their song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" at the 10th Annual Grammy Awards in 1968.[26] The song was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.[1]


Studio albums[edit]

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 albums[edit]

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)[31] 30 11 65 26 Easy
"What You Gave Me" (with Marvin Gaye)[31] 49 6
"The Onion Song" (with Marvin Gaye)[31] 50 18 9
1970 "California Soul" (with Marvin Gaye)[31] 56 79 87
"—" denotes recordings that did not chart or were not released.
  • B Credited to Tammy Montgomery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Grammy Hall of Fame". Recording Academy Grammy Award.
  2. ^ "Tammi Terrell". NNDB.com. Retrieved July 30, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Tammi Terrell: Unsung, TV One, 2011
  4. ^ Montgomery, Ludie (2005). My Sister Tommie – The Real Tammi Terrell. Wright, Vickie. New Romney [England]: Bank House Books. ISBN 1904408168. OCLC 61347691.
  5. ^ a b c d Peters, Art (November 1969). "The Ordeal Of Tammi Terrell". Ebony: 94–104.
  6. ^ Washington 2004, p. 125.
  7. ^ Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell all music Retrieved 20 March 2024
  8. ^ "Best R&B Artist of 1970" (PDF). Cash Box: 76. December 26, 1970.
  9. ^ "Maxine Brown Pinch Hits With Gaye For Ailing Tammi". Jet: 53. November 9, 1967.
  10. ^ "This Day In History: Motown soul singer Tammi Terrell dies". history.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  11. ^ "Singer Tammi Terrell Dies In Philly At Age 24". Jet: 55. April 2, 1970.
  12. ^ Tinsley, Justin (August 31, 2015). "How Marvin Gaye's NFL tryout changed his career". ESPN'.
  13. ^ "Tammi Terrell Recovering From Brain Surgery". Jet: 56. February 8, 1968.
  14. ^ Edmonds, Ben (2001). What's Going On?: Marvin Gaye and the Last Days of the Motown Sound. Mojo Books. p. 25. ISBN 9781841950839.
  15. ^ Posner, Gerald (2009) [2001]. Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power. Random House. p. 184. ISBN 9780307538628.
  16. ^ The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 9: 1969, Motown/Hip-O Select, 2008, p. 109.
  17. ^ a b c Betts, Graham (2014). Motown Encyclopedia. AC Publishing. ISBN 9781500471699. OCLC 907947717.
  18. ^ Goldberg, Michael (April 6, 1989). "James Brown: Wrestling With the Devil". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  19. ^ a b "The Tragic Life of Tammi Terrell". Goldmine Magazine. April 9, 2015.
  20. ^ Cleage, Pearl. (1990). Mad at Miles: a blackwoman's guide to truth. Southfield, Michigan: Cleage Group Publication. p. 15. ISBN 0962814202. OCLC 24696989.
  21. ^ Whitaker, Tim (October 22, 2008). "Editor's Note: Tammi Terrell (1945-1970)". PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.
  22. ^ Ross, Kevin (August 30, 2010). "Unsung Review: Tammi Terrell". Radio Facts.
  23. ^ "Thousands Attend Last Rites For Tammi Terrell". Jet. April 9, 1970. p. 60. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  24. ^ Stanton, Scott (2003). The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians (2nd ed.). New York: Pocket Books. p. 423. ISBN 0-7434-6330-7. Retrieved July 3, 2022.
  25. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Tammi Terrell | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  26. ^ "Tammi Terrell". Recording Academy Grammy Awards.
  27. ^ a b c d e f "US Charts > Tammi Terrell". Billboard. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  28. ^ a b "UK Charts > Tammi Terrell". Official Charts Company. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  29. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Charts Book 1970—1992. Australian Chart Book Pty Ltd, Turramurra, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  30. ^ "CAN Charts > Tammi Terrell". RPM. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  31. ^ 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 Berry Gordy came up with Simpson filling in for the ill Terrell. Still, Ludie Montgomery (Terrell's younger sister) says in her book, My Sister Tommie: The Real Tammi Terrell, that Terrell is heard and not Simpson.


Further reading[edit]

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