Marv Johnson was born in Detroit and began singing and playing piano in a doo-wop group in the mid-fifties. Berry Gordy was putting together Tamla, his own record label. He heard Marv perform at a carnival and worked with him to record a few songs. The first record that Tamla Records released was Come To Me, a song that the two men wrote together.
The local response to the record was positive, but Tamla did not yet have a way to distribute records nationally. The single was eventually released by United Artists and reached #30 on the Hot 100 and a respectable #6 on the R&B chart. After that success, United Artists signed Marv to a recording contract.
Marv didn’t exactly break ties with Tamla, and his next eight singles were written or co-written by Berry. His second single did not do as well as the first, but after that, he had two records in 1960 that made the top ten on the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart: You’ve Got What It Takes and I Love The Way You Love.
His last release in 1960 was Move Two Mountains, which turned out to be his last visit to the top forty on the Hot 100. While that record only reached #20 on the pop chart and #12 on the R&B chart, it still managed to sell over a million copies and earn a gold record.
Two more singles dented the charts in 1961, after which his failure to stay on the charts led United Artists to drop him. In 1965 he signed with his old friends from Tamla Records who had grown their small label into Motown Records. His records were released on the Gordy label at first, and later on Tamla Motown.
Marv continued recording and releasing records for Motown through the end of the sixties. In 1969, I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose surprised everybody when the single reached the top ten in the UK. The re-release of a three-year-old backlist song reached #25 in the UK, and then Marv’s charting days were over. He kept writing songs and working on sales and promotions for Motown through the seventies. He also recorded an album that was released in the UK in the late eighties.
Marv died from a stroke in 1993.