by Kristina Byas
Like many great singers of the past, Tammi Terrell is to soon be honored for contributions to the music world with a biopic in which Kat Graham will play the late singer.
The life of this Motown singer who was taken far too young was an interesting one to say the least. The film will follow the short lived career of Terrell, which started when she became a back up singer in the James Brown Revue. She really came into her own as a star when she began performing with Marvin Gaye, singing hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.”
Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery in Philadelphia to an actress mother and a dad who owned a barbershop. Her younger sister says Terrell was molested by three boys when she only 11 years old. By age 12, she started suffering from horrendous migraine headaches. In spite of health challenges, Terrell’s talent was already opening doors for her. At the age of 16, she was 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, Terrell became sexually involved with Brown in a relationship that continued until it turned abusive. In 1963, her first charting single “I Cried” reached #99 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Frustrated with her failure, Terrell decided to quit the music business and go to college. She enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania where she spent the next two years as a pre-med major.
By 1965, music was calling Terrell again this time in the form of Motown. On her 20th birthday, Terrell signed on with Berry Gordy who changed her professional name to Tammi Terrell.
Although Terrell was experiencing much success in her career, in 1967 , those migraines she began suffering as a childhood were beginning to increase in frequency and severity. While performing live with Gaye at Hampden-Sydney College, Terrell collapsed and had to be helped off stage by Gaye. Following the incident, doctors diagnosed the singer with a malignant brain tumor.
Even though Terrell’s health was suffering, she continued on with her career. When Terrell’s tumor worsened and the number of operations started to increase, doctors ordered her to retire from live performances. Her final performance was in 1969 at the Apollo Theatre, where she performed with Gaye, who was headlining that evening’s show.
By the time 1970 rolled around, Terrell had become blind and was confined to a wheelchair. Though she was falling increasingly ill, she hadn’t yet ended her fight with cancer when she underwent her eighth surgery. Unfortunately, following the surgery, the singer slipped into a coma and passed away on March 16, just six weeks before her 25th birthday.
The film will most likely not only focus on her health issues, but detail her relationships with James Brown and Temptation’s singer David Ruffin, as well as her friendship with Gaye, whom she had become extremely close with during their years of working together. The biopic is set to begin shooting next year.