EXCLUSIVE: The woman who teamed with Marvin Gaye on a string of 1960s Motown hits before dying of a brain tumor at age 24 is getting her own biopic. Tammi Terrell will be played by The Vampire Diaries star Kat Graham, who also is working her debut album with producer Babyface. Maryam Myika Day wrote the untitled project, which marks Graham’s feature debut and is being produced by Robert Teitel, Rose Ganguzza and Hilary Shor. Shooting is set for next year.
The film follows the brief but memorable career of Terrell, who started out as a backup singer in the James Brown Revue before scoring a few minor pop hits as a solo act. But she struck gold after being paired with hitmaking singer Gaye in early 1967, a teaming that produced such Motown classics as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.” In October 1967, Terrell collapsed onstage while performing with Gaye, and doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor. She continued to record with Gaye and scored a few more solo hits before dying in 1970.
“I immediately connected to Tammi and her story in many ways and have felt the incredible need to tell it,” Graham said. “Tammi Terrell defined passion and soul itself. … Getting lost in the music enabled her to override life’s punishments — for when she sang, she could use the hurt to create greatness and give the world hope that maybe they could overcome their pain as well.”
The biopic is the first full-length feature through Graham’s Panthera Pictures production company.