02/04/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
When Nona Gaye first met Muhammad Ali in 1980, she'd already heard about the time he pretended to pummel her father, Motown legend Marvin Gaye, during a charity boxing match. "Ali went easy on him," says the singer-actress, 27, who plays the champ's second wife in Ali. Nona, though, was knocked out. "I'd been around celebrities my whole life," she says, "but I thought, 'Oh my gosh, Ali's here!' It's the same way now."
Some things have changed. In 1984 Marvin Gaye was fatally shot by his father. "There was a rip in our family, but coping skills had to be learned," says Gaye, whose mother, Jan, raised Nona and her brother. Singing helped ease the pain. Gaye, who is single and lives in L.A. with her son Nolan, 4, will release a second R&B CD this year, a decade after her first effort tanked. "I can't be Marvin Gaye's daughter and not be expected to fill his shoes," she says. "I receive the comparisons with open arms because I know people long for him just like I do."