Marvin Gaye’s family in ugly feud after $7.4m ‘Blurred Lines’ payout as his widow accuses his ‘penniless’ sisters of ‘picking on his bones’ and they say ‘he would have hated to see us like this’

The sisters, who are 69 and 78, say they cannot even perform his songs – despite Zeola singing the actual line in Got to Give it Up which was at the center of the legal case.

In what they say is a bitter irony, Gaye’s wife and children will receive the $7.4m while Zeola and Jeanne are living effectively in poverty despite playing a key role in Gaye’s life, while his ex-wife and her children profit from the ground breaking legal case and the already rich legacy of his music.

But Jan Gaye, 55, who was married to the singer for 11 years, accused the sisters of being ‘desperate’ and said she was deeply hurt by an earlier book written by the youngest sister which accused her of infidelity with soul singers Rick James and Teddy Pendergrass.

The exact scale of Gaye’s financial legacy has not been reliably calculated, but is clearly substantial.

Besides the $7.4 million ordered by the court, Jan and his three children – Marvin III, 49, Nona, 40 and Frankie, 39 – receive royalty payments from his vast back catalog.

It includes some of the most popular soul songs, such as Sexual Healing, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and What’s Going On.

Gaye was shot and killed by his father in 1984. His father, also Marvin, accused his son of having an affair with his own mother in the course of the row, which ended with the older man shooting his son.

He had divorced Jan, his second wife, and was close to both his sisters. They are now entirely at odds.

Zeola told Daily Mail Online: ’Marvin didn’t leave a will and his estate went to his heirs which we agree with. But Jan controls it all and that’s why we do not get anything.

‘The bottom line is that they get everything and we don’t get a dime. We try and live with that, but it is difficult.

‘If I was given a few million, it would change my life a lot. Marvin would have hated to have seen us like this.

‘He would have cared for us and made sure we were fine financially and with love.

‘It is hard knowing that all that money is going around and we will never see any of it.’

The sisters and Jan Gaye have been repeatedly at odds since his death but the settlement earlier this month opened up fresh wounds. 

Zeola and Jan exchanged text messages last week after the federal jury ruled against Thicke and Williams.

Although initially Zeola texted ‘congratulations’ on the verdict, it prompted an increasingly agitated exchange which ended with Jan writing to Zeola: ‘Won’t be disturbing you again.’

The award to Marvin III, Nona and Frankie was the largest amount ever given in a copyright infringement case. 

Zeola, a retired book keeper, told Daily Mail Online: ‘I am tired about the negativity. I am trying to be as positive as I can and trying to make some money for myself.

‘There is nothing wrong with that. Marvin is in our blood and he loved us. But we have to do the 8am-5pm thing to keep going.

‘Our heads are a little above water. It is hard to take when you know your brother’s work is making a fortune and will for a very long time.’

Zeola and Marvin’s eldest sister Jeanne,78, live separately in modest apartments several miles apart. Zeola has built a shrine to her brother and photographs adorn the walls of the living area of her Las Vegas home.

‘When our mother died from cancer, it was a struggle to pay the medical bills. Marvin would have been horrified by this situation because he cared for and loved his family,’ Zeola said.

‘I would just make sure my family was taken care off; my kids, my sister and her kids.

‘I don’t want to be rich. I just want to be comfortable where I can be in a position to say “Come on guys, get your passports, we are going to London.” 

‘I just want to be able to do things like that and not worry about the next pay check if any of us get sick.’

At the center of the dispute are Zeola and Jan, who both performed on the original recording of the song ‘Got to Give it Up’.

Zeola said: ‘My sister and I were not included in the law suit even though I feel so close to the song because that is me making all the party sounds on it.

‘You hear me before you hear anything else on “Got to Give It Up”. I was there when Marvin recorded it. It was always fun watching Marvin perform and record.

‘He was tapping on a soda bottle and called me over and said “Hey Zee, just make a party sound.”

‘He said just act like you were in a club. So I said “hey what’s happening…hey Marvin, hey Frankie”. It was just party time and I am on the song throughout while Jan and Frankie sang backing vocals.’

Referring to the award, she said: ‘I am getting a lot of congratulations on the law suit, but it was Marvin’s children and not my two daughters.’ 

Her elder sister Jeanne, a pastor, said the dispute would have saddened their brother.‘Marvin loved his family and there was nothing more in his heart that he wished for than to see his family stay together.‘He was very much ahead of his time and I used to tell him: “You are in the next phase of life even though you live in this one.”

‘He always said he was God’s messenger and when he wrote “What’s Going On” he said the words came directly from God and through him. But the sadness was within him and he was always saying he couldn’t do enough for his family. That sadness spilled over into his music.’ 

The family rift has been fueled by a book Zeola wrote three years ago called ‘My Brother Marvin’ in which she claimed Jan had tried to poison her brother.

Zeola admitted that Jan’s anger may have been fueled accusing Jan of infidelity in her marriage, by having affairs with the singers Rick James and Teddy Pendergrass.

She also wrote that Jan, who was 16 when she met Marvin, had a bad attitude towards their mother, to whom the singer was very close.

Zeola wrote: ‘Besides cheating on Marvin, Jan was also becoming very disrespectful to Mom. Jan has vehemently denied all the claims.

‘It so funny how when you are ugly on the inside, it changes your whole appearance and actually makes you less attractive on the outside.

‘This is what Jan had become to those who knew her or had to deal with her.’

She said that when Marvin had become estranged from Jan, she put a temporary restraining order on him ‘out of vindictiveness’.

But Zeola said she did not regret anything she said about Jan, who was Marvin’s second wife after Anna Gordy.

‘I always tell the truth, just like Marvin always did,’ she said.

Zeola said there has been no contact since she sent the last message and she remains ‘baffled’ as to what her ex-sister-in-law meant by ‘disturbing’ her.

She added: ‘I have tried for us to be a family numerous times. I am always the one who reached out.’

The feud’s roots run deep, both sides admit.

Zeola said of Jan: ‘She used to tell me through the years “You are taking food out of the kids’ mouths”. She would say I was “picking Marvin’s bones”. But I am his sister and if Marvin was here, he would want me to pick his bones.’

Maybe she never got over the fact that I am Marvin’s sister. That is not my fault. I was born in this family with the same mother and father and that is just how it is.Marvin really loved me.’

Jan and Zeola got along when Marvin made Jan his second wife in October 1977, but Zeola said she believed her new sister-in-law was jealous of her, particularly after Marvin took her on their honeymoon.

The marriage, which produced two children, broke up and Marvin descended into an episode of heavy crack, cocaine and marijuana use.

Zeola, who dated Muhammed Ali after meeting him in Central Park, was also given drugs by her brother and became addicted to cocaine after his death at the hands of his father Marvin snr on April 1 1984.

She went on: ‘Jan is very unhappy that I wrote a book and told the truth. Some people can’t handle the truth. But I stand by everything I wrote, 100 per cent.’

The book came after Jan blocked the sisters from using their brother’s music in a play about his life, which went ahead without his songs, while a documentary film they have taken part in has been stalled because Sony say Jan will not allow his recordings to be played on it.

Jan told Daily Mail online there was a dispute between them but laid the blame at Zeola’s door. 

She would not be discuss the settlement from Thicke and Williams – which has yet to be paid and which could be subject to appeal. 

However Jan told Daily Mail Online: ‘My personal affairs have absolutely nothing to do with her.

‘I just don’t want to reply to anything that has anything to do with Zeola Gaye.

‘I am not here to validate or invalidate it. She is not a part of my life and she is not part of my children’s life and her book is not really about Marvin. I think I read more about myself in the book than I did about Marvin.

‘A lot of what she said about Marvin is absolutely not true. She did it under the pretense of giving closure to herself. ‘

Jan added: ‘It is correct that we are not on the greatest of terms. But I don’t want to say anything disparaging about her.

‘She accused me of some pretty vile things in her book like trying to kill Marvin. For somebody to accuse me of trying to murder the father of my children was really distasteful.

‘I don’t know if anything like a re-conciliation could happen unless she retracted some of her lies in her book about me and Marvin.’

The family dispute is a sad footnote to Gaye’s life – but reflective of his own family difficulties. 

The soul legend was shot and killed by his father after the two fought. Marvin snr accused his son of having an affair with his own mother.

At the time of the shooting, Marvin had been sitting with his mother with a towel wrapped around him. They were both reading their Bibles.

Their mother died in 1986 from cancer having been given six months to live in the months before Marvin was shot dead. In fact she was to life three more years.

The singer told his sister: ‘Mother will be able to handle my death much easier than I will hers.’

Zeola added: ‘He wanted to die. He couldn’t stay around without his mother.

‘He loved her so much and was in a tail spin. He didn’t want to be around if she passed away. I think he committed suicide in reality.

‘The IRS were after him for millions of dollars and the mafia had taken much of his money and never got paid for concerts. 

‘It was a very sad end and that sadness would be greater if he knew the situation some of his family were in today.’


EXCLUSIVE: Marvin Gaye’s family in ugly feud after $7.4m ‘Blurred Lines’ payout as his widow accuses his ‘penniless’ sisters of ‘picking on his bones’ and they say ‘he would have hated to see us like this’
Marvin Gaye’s children have won $7.4m from Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams in groundbreaking case over ‘Blurred Lines’
Jury found parts of it breached copyright of Marvin Gaye’s hit ‘Got to Give it Up’
But Gaye family is torn apart by long-running rift and his sisters Zeola and Jeanne tell Daily Mail Online they deserve some of the cash from the case
Zeola is first voice to be heard on ‘Got to Give it Up’ and says it is ironic she cannot benefit
She and Gaye’s second wife Jan, who brought case with his children, have been involved in bitter exchange of texts in wake of ruling
Jan accused Gaye’s sisters of spreading lies about her – including that she cheated on Sexual Healing singer – and being out for money
Shekhar Bhatia
March 25, 2015