Marvin Yancy was enjoying his biggest gospel record as Reverend Marvin Yancy with Heavy Load when he died suddenly. The pastor of the Fountain of Life church on Chicago's south side, Yancy was the son of a minister and born into a musically inclined family. His mother was a great singer. He studied at the Chicago Baptist Institute and the Mooney Baptist Institute of Theology. When gospel greats like James Cleveland and Jessy Dixon would come to Chicago, Yancy would accompany them on piano. Meeting Chuck Jackson at the turn of the '70s was the impetus to take Yancy into secular, commercial music. During an Operation Breadbasket (now PUSH) expo, Yancy was backing legendary gospel group the Caravans. After the show, Jackson approached Yancy about co-writing eight songs for Aretha Franklin. Nothing happened with the songs, but it did start the pair's collaboration. Having heard from a friend about Jerry Butler's Songwriters Workshop, Jackson invited Yancy to it. Financed by Chappell Music, the workshop offered Jackson and Yancy paid positions as songwriters, with the resulting songs published by Chappell. An unusual arrangement.
The two started a group called the Independents, who scored two hits for Wand/Scepter Records, "Just as Long as You Need Me" and the million-selling "Leaving Me" (number one R&B, May 19, 1973). Among record company squabbles, the group broke up. Jackson and Yancy wanted to continue writing and producing. Later, their manager Bob Schwaid was visiting his friend, artist manager Kevin Hunter, in New York, when Hunter said that he was looking for songs for a female singer, Natalie Cole, he'd just signed. Going back to Chicago, Cole met with Jackson and Yancy to see if they could all work together. The trio hit it off and began working at Curtis Mayfield's Curtom studios at the end of 1974. Turned down by every label, Cole finally gained the interest of Capitol Records executive Larkin Arnold through demos done with Jackson and Yancy.
Jackson and Yancy wrote Cole's first hit, "This Will Be," at the end of sessions done for Arnold, just as he and Cole were about to leave town. The single went to number one R&B on October 4, 1975. More number one R&B singles followed: "Inseparable," "Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady)," "I've Got Love on My Mind," and "Our Love." The trio earned gold and platinum albums with Inseparable, Natalie, Thankful, Unpredictable, and I Love You So. They wrote and produced hits for Ronnie Dyson, "The More You Do It" and "Don't Be Afraid." Later, Cole and Yancy married, had a son, and divorced.
Returning to Chicago, Yancy pastored his late father's church and recorded a handful of gospel albums, until 1985 when he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 34.