Face of Flanders: Marvin Gaye


The city of Ostend just unveiled a statue of soul singer Marvin Gaye in front of the apartment building where he lived for a time, in search of quiet and solitude

“Ostend is a beautiful little city”

Last week the city of Ostend unveiled a statue of one-time resident Marvin Gaye on the Albert-I-promenade. Gaye, one of the 20th century’s greatest soul and R&B singers, would have been 75 years old on 2 April. But he died on 1 April 1984, shot by his own father, not long after he had spent the better part of a year living in Ostend and in Moere, also in West Flanders, at the home of the artist Charles Dumolin.

The American legend’s stay in Flanders followed a low point in both his career and personal life and famously led to his last big hit. It was 1980, and he had blown off a London performance in front of Princess Margaret by turning up after most of the guests of the charity event had left. Also facing major tax and relationship problems, Gaye followed the advice of a local concert promoter who owned a hotel in Ostend and took the ferry over from Dover.

In 1982, following his stay, he surprised the world with the release of the album Midnight Love and the hit single “Sexual Healing”, recorded just outside Brussels. It was composed between the house in Moere and Ostend’s  Residence Jane, outside of which his statue now stands. 

The song, almost as overtly erotically charged as Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime, moi non plus”, was a sensation, with chart success in country after country. It reached number two on Belgium’s Ultratop list. It also picked up two Grammys and has been repeatedly covered, perhaps most oddly by George Michael at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute in 1988. In more recent times it frequently surfaces as a sample by rap and hip-hop artists.

“Ostend is a beautiful little city,” Gaye said during his stay, where he was a novelty to the coastal resort’s residents. “It’s a beat back in tempo from Paris, London, New York or Los Angeles. Perhaps two beats back. I think that the people here are of the mind and of the attitude that if you’re human and if you’re decent and good and respectable, then you’re OK with them.”

Last week an old friend remembered Gaye’s Ostend days. Arno, a native Ostendenaar who was then verging on early success with TC Matic was working in the kitchen of the hotel where Gaye was staying. Last week he told the VRT: “We never talked about music, only about women.”