Known for her duets with Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery on April 29, 1945 in Philadelphia. Her younger sister says Tammi was raped by three boys when she only 11 years old.
In 1960, she signed to a record label where she recorded a couple of singles. She left that label to sign on with James Brown where she began singing back up in his revue. Even though she was only 17, Tammi became sexually involved in an abusive relationship with James who was almost 30. One night on the road Tammi left him after getting mercilessly beaten.
In 1963, her first charting single “I Cried” reached #99 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Frustrated with her failure, she decided to quit the music business and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania where she spent the next two years as a pre-med major.
In 1965, on her 20th birthday, she signed on with Berry Gordy who changed her professional name to Tammi Terrell. During the Motown Revue tour which she opened for The Temptations, Tammi began a volatile relationship with the lead singer David Ruffin.
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 public fights. It is claimed that Ruffin hit Tammi with a hammer and a machete, though these claims were denied by Tammi’s family. Earl Van Dyke, leader of Motown’s Funk Brothers band, recalled David beating up Tammi in the Hitsville building. Her sister Ludie Montgomery also confirmed a story that Tammi was hit in the face by Ruffin’s motorcycle helmet, leading to the end of their relationship in 1967.
In 1967, Tammi began recording with Marvin Gaye, they had a close platonic relationship and the duo released a string of hits including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love”. While performing live with Marvin at Hampden-Sydney College she collapsed and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
Following the surgery in 1970, Tammi slipped into a coma and died on March 16, just weeks before her 25th birthday.
Take a look at these gorgeous photos to see the beauty of Tammi Terrell during the 1960s.