Unsung Review: The Amazing Tammi Terrell


This is truly a tragic story all the way around, excusing that Tammi Terrell was meant to be a star.

tammi terrell
UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 01: Photo of Tammi TERRELL; Posed studio portrait of Tammi Terrell (Photo by RB/Redferns)

She was outrageously talented and beautiful. She was originally signed as a solo act in 1965 on Motown and she even recorded an album that failed to succeed however when Berry Gordy teamed her up with Marvin and he brought in Ashford and Simpson as young producers all hit hell broke loose on the charts. It was a great call by Berry.

Tammy suffered health, mental and physical trauma after being savagely gang-raped when she was a young teenager on her way from school by 3 boys. The attack made her promiscuous and she made horrific choices in men. It appears rape and savage beatings were very common for black women back in the 40s through the 60s but many women never pressed charges. I’m sure dealing with the racist legal system at the time played a significant role in that.

I was not aware that her first famous boyfriend was James Brown who several people in the video admit used to beat the sh… out of her. One singer states he even witnessed James beat the sh… out of Tammi after a show.

To that end, it’s very hard for me to have any respect for James Brown and his legacy.   I have a severe issue with men who beat women after a female relative was beaten by her husband when she was 9 months pregnant when I was a kid. Watching this story was very hard but the show is excellent.

The story actually dispels the rumor that David Ruffin hit her in the head with a hammer BUT he did hit her in the head with a motorcycle helmet. Now Ruffin is another piece of sh…. It’s hard to feel sorry for him being found dead in a crack house. It just appeared, even from the Temptations biography that David Ruffin was a stellar singer but a really fooked up individual. I bet you those singers at Motown saw some crazy sh… back in the day.

Sadly, Tammi died before the height of her success. She had 8 brain surgeries and they even interview her surgeon. Brain surgery in the 60s was VERY dangerous and she managed to get back to work each time afterward. Her doctors knew her situation was not curable and the cancerous tumors continued to grow back but Tammi continued to record during her illness. She finally died in March of 1970 and several people in the video state she never really got to enjoy her success.

She met a doctor whom she wanted to marry before she died and it’s reported that she was very happy with him. The doctor is interviewed in the series. Tammi’s mother denied all Motown people (except Marvin Gaye) from attending the funeral. Her mother blamed Motown for not protecting Tammi from David Ruffin’s beatings.

Finally, this situation was said to be the catalyst that sent Marvin on his first drug binges. He was said to be extremely depressed about the situation for years and he blamed himself for her death. 3 months after her death, Diana Ross recorded a revamped version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which immediately shot to Number 1.

On a side note, I must say TV ONE gets incredible Kudos for this series. I have NEVER seen ANYTHING on Tammi Terrell or many of the artists the show covers. This is a must-watch. The scale of 1 through 5, 5 being Excellent, I give this a 6. The show airs Sept 20th on TV One.


  1. Tammi Terrell is one of the Top 5 artists (along with Thelonious Monk, Minnie Riperton, Donny Hathaway and Tony Williams) I wish I could have met, interviewed and befriended. She was gorgeous, talented and just had a sweet vibe that oozed before the camera.
    If you EVER want to see just how much Marvin Gaye adored (like a brother) Tammi, watch him sing what he calls “The Tammi Terrell Medley” on the Live from Belgium DVD. Marvin usually performed this medley with a guest female singer, but on this occasion overseas, he sings the songs alone. Man – over ten years after her death – you can STILL see the pain in his eyes and gestures as he lifts the microphone gently toward Heaven…and hear it in his voice when he croons – for the ages – “If This World Were Mine” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.”
    I can’t wait to savor and soak in an hour devoted to the unforgettable Ms. Tammi Terrell. And you’re absolutely right Kevin: “Unsung” is my ONLY appointment TV show.

  2. I’m related to her and I know very little about her. In fact I didn’t know who she was until the day she died, when a relative came to my greatgrandmother’s house to telll her of the tragedy. Grace Wood is my deceased mother’s younger sister. Can’t wait for the show. She was a beautiful & very talented young woman.

  3. Its about damn time somebody did a tribute to her. She was as every part of Motown as the rest of the artist. The only other thing that I saw that even gave a glisp as to who she was is when the Temptations movie came out 12yrs ago with Otis Williams as the consultant on the project. They had an actress playing Tammi when the Temps were at a Motown picnic. They had her with David Ruffin and he was being mean to her. Other than that nothing has been done until Ludie put out her memoir last year.

  4. Wow Tammi was is so great. Love her voice, it’s like a siren so alluring and spellfull. wish I would have been older than 12 when she was doing her thing.

  5. I heard that sam cooke had a crush on her. could you even imagine some of the songs they could have made. No I want say they would have been better than Tami and Marvin but I’anm betting they would have been great.

  6. I saw this on TV last night and I’m soo glad that I recorded it too. I had to play it back this morning and all I keep hearing playing in my head is you’re all I need to get by…I use to love every song David Ruffin sang, and knew all the words before I could read..I’ve lost all the respect for him …hitting Tammi in the head with a motorcycle helmet…Tammi was just simply georgeous. smart and could sang…not “sing” this girl could sang…I’m starting to wear my hair like she did in some of the pics…it’s very becoming when you have big eyes:-)

  7. I just wish we got this series in the UK as Tammi is so Special to me, just wish I could have had the chance to see her live or meet her.
    Is there any chance anyone could do a DVD copy for me, it would mean so much to me!
    There seems so many good artists in this current series, like Teddy.

  8. Yes!! It IS about time Tammi got her proper respect. I am a big, BIG fan. Thanks so much to TV ONE. Isn’t it great to finally have a network to address our interests and showcase our talent, intellect and spirituality? I’ve always loved Tammi Terrell and would love to see and hear more. I bet they are digging into the vaults at this moment and I will be one of the first to buy any new release. Please let TV One know to keep it coming!

  9. Iam so glad UNSUNG did a story on Tammi Terrell.Usually she is just mentioned as a footnote in Marvin Gayes career,and not given her FULL CREDIT.No one ever mentions the fact that she and Marvin were the first ever duo to have 5 top twenty hits in a row on the pop and soul charts with their first 5 records together and to my knowledge I dont think no duo ever has since.

  10. I saw this series,and was teary-eyed during the last half hour.She was gorgeous, and she was ahead of her time.She’s NOT suffering anymore. She is still dearly loved and missed.May her Creator watch over her and bless her. The good always die young!

  11. Tammy was one beautiful woman with the voice of angle lm so sorry it took forty years after her death for someone to acknowledge her talent.just as the same was done to florence ballard


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