A Call for a Respectful Biopic About Tammi Terrell
In cyberspace there’s an annoying habit of claiming, “First!” when one is the first to respond to a post. Well, I may not be the first to suggest the following motion picture idea, but I surely hope somebody out there in cyberspace who’s reading this blog also thinks that actor Taraji P. Henson would be an excellent choice for a portrayal of a bright star who faded from the sky too soon: Tammi Terrell.
Now that the TVOne cable network has done a fine profile on Tammi Terrell’s life on its well-received program “Unsung,” let’s clamor in cyberspace for a long overdue and well researched biographical drama about the immortal singer. No thanks to giving us rehashed sensationalism, such as the long-held rumor that beatings from any one of Terrell’s former lovers specifically contributed either to her developing brain cancer or to her death. (Watch a rebroadcast of the “Unsung” episode and read the biography My Sister Tommie: The Real Tammi Terrell written by Terrell’s younger sister, Ludie Montgomery, with Vickie Wright.) I’m calling for a respectful, thorough biographical drama about Terrell’s life.
While I’m relieved that the “Unsung” episode on Terrell’s life cleared up the facts about Terrell’s brain tumor, I’m still appalled that she was beaten at all! “Domestic” abuse is a crime and, especially when it’s inflicted upon women, is swept under the rug – way back then in Terrell’s time as much as today. I can attest to domestic abuse inflicted upon my mother (and witnessed by me) and upon myself (by more than one person at different times in my life), and I can assure those of you who only have read or listened to reports about it that there’s nothing endearing about the adjective domestic when it precedes the noun abuse.
As a borderline Baby Buster, I didn’t know until viewing “Unsung” that Tammi Terrell had a promising medical career ahead of her and made a critical choice between continuing her university education and achieving greater musical fame – the latter with the hit-making Motown machine, nonetheless. Recently I was invited to a private party and was approached by a friendly and eloquent gentleman who, I would come to find out while viewing “Unsung,” was one of the neurosurgeons who had operated multiple times on Terrell. (Terrell had eight operations within just a few years’ time.) Talk about a small world. Small indeed, but also fascinatingly so. After losing my mother, decades ago, to a form of cancer that today has a higher survival rate, I lost a great deal of respect for physicians, but now, having had the chance to speak with such an awesome human being, I have regained respect for doctors.
I choose not to disclose the aforementioned surgeon’s name, in the interest of protecting his privacy. After all, when we chatted I had no idea of his occupation and didn’t want to know (please read my February 2010 blog titled “Are You Doing You?” to understand my reasoning). We were simply two people among many at a splendid soiree to which I had the privilege of being invited by a kind, new friend.
Had Tammi Terrell, born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery on April 29, 1945, lived, she would have been a force to be reckoned with and not mainly Marvin Gaye’s famous duet partner. No way am I putting down those classic duets of songs written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson (what, are you kidding?). I love the Gaye-Terrell musical chemistry and artistry, not to mention Ashford & Simpson’s “solid as a rock” composing and producing partnership, and their long marital partnership.
As a toddler – yeah, I can remember those years – I was spoon-fed purees while listening to these Ashford & Simpson songs: “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and, of course, “Precious Love.” Today, these melodic duets chill me out like my pacifier used to do. For me, they’re memorable not for some fried-chicken jingle, nor for sentimentalizing relationships between lip-syncing yuppies in romantic comedies of the 1980s through 1990s.
My first memory of the Marvin Gaye-penned “If This World Were Mine” definitely is not one during my toddler years. Before I heard Gaye and Terrell’s incomparable original, I first listened to the cover version by the legendary Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn at a family barbecue in the summer of 1982. Not to take anything away from that scintillating rendition by Vandross and Lynn, but there’s a purity to Terrell’s voice that makes Lynn’s seem over-the-top. Sure, that’s not a fair assessment. I loved Lynn’s vocal acrobatics way back when much in the way that, today, I adore Rachelle Ferrell’s vocal elasticity.
Hmm, in the big-screen biopic about Tammi Terrell for which I am campaigning via this blog, who could portray Marvin Gaye? How about the excellent actor and singer Jesse L. Martin? Before Martin kept me tuning in to “Law & Order” every week, he had blown me away as “Tom Collins” on Broadway in Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent. Martin originated that role, and he sang so powerfully in Rent that I wished there had been plenty of opportunities for him to sing on episodes of “Law & Order.” Last year I read an on-line article that Martin was working on a film depicting Marvin Gaye’s final, tormented years.
While the movie about Gaye’s life is still in the making, where is one about Terrell’s? In her case, I don’t want a film focusing on her death. She lived a lot of life in her 24 years on Earth. Tammi Terrell died of brain cancer on March 16, 1970.
So, to all you film producers, screenwriters, directors, film distributors, publicists, et al.: Please make a major biopic about Tammi Terrell happen. And do this while Terrell’s sister, Ludie Montgomery, is around (perhaps she would agree to serve as a paid consultant for the film?). Also, to all you casting agents: Please consider for the role Taraji P. Henson, who not only resembles the iconic singer and uncannily possesses a similar sassiness but also is an amazing actor and an intelligent person.
To the Montgomery family: Heaven definitely sent your daughter/sister/cousin Tommie Montgomery from above. Despite a debilitating, serious illness, she insisted on us hearing how pure love sounds when delivered with her flawless vocals … until the very end. No one will ever sound like Tammi Terrell, and she will be missed in perpetuity.
© 2010 Chantale Rêve
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