R&B enigma Marvin Pontiac was born Marvin Toure in Detroit on March 30, 1932; he was the son of a Jewish New Yorker mother and Malinese African father, with the latter legally changing the family's last name to Pontiac (believing it to be a proper American surname) before abandoning his wife and child in 1934. Two years later, Pontiac's mother was institutionalized, and the boy relocated with his father to Bamako, Mali, where he absorbed the region's musical traditions before settling in Chicago at the age of 15. There he began playing the harmonica, suffering a beating at the hands of local blues legend Little Walter, who accused the teen of stealing his harp sound and signature riff. A humiliated Pontiac then hopped a bus to Lubbock, TX, where he served as a plumber's apprentice and, according to rumor, robbed a bank. He also began performing on the Louisiana-Texas club circuit.
In 1952, Pontiac signed to the Austin-based Acorn label, scoring a minor hit with the lascivious "I'm a Doggy"; somehow his records also made their way to Africa, with "Pancakes" emerging as an underground smash in Nigeria. The increasingly eccentric musician's relations with Acorn owner Norman Hector quickly became strained, however, and Pontiac only agreed to re-enter the studio on the condition that the label chief mow his lawn. Despite a small but fervent fan base -- renowned painter Jackson Pollock was reportedly such an enthusiast that he sent Pontiac several paintings which the singer promptly threw out -- he receded from performing during the mid-'50s, and little is known of his subsequent activities prior to a 1963 arrest for bicycling naked through the streets of Sidell, LA.
Pontiac next resurfaced in 1970, claiming he'd been abducted by aliens; a year later he returned to his native Detroit, where he was soon hospitalized in the Esmerelda State Mental Institution after creating a disturbance at a local International House of Pancakes. His behavior remained erratic until his death in June of 1977, when he was fatally struck by a bus; Pontiac was just 45 years old. His cult following increased exponentially over the decades, however, and in the spring of 2000, disciple John Lurie issued Marvin Pontiac's Greatest Hits through his own Strange & Beautiful label, finally wrestling the singer's music out of the hands of record collectors and making it available to the general public for the first time. Rumors that Pontiac is but a figment of Lurie's imagination continue to swirl. ~ Jason Ankeny