R&B artist John Legend covered Marvin Gaye's masterpiece of socially conscious R&B, the 1971 album What's Going On, during a show last night at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. This concert has been planned for months, but in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent response in Ferguson, Mo., Legend's choice of material was particularly resonant (if not flat out prescient). The show had a very what-we-need-right-now feel. Underneath his blazer, Legend wore a T-shirt that read "DON'T SHOOT."
Before ripping into Gaye's album, he acknowledged the presence of Gaye's son, Marvin Gaye III, who sat in the audience.
"It was more than just a piece of music," said Legend of What's Going On. "It was a landmark of social commentary...In that spirit, tonight, you're going to meet some young artists. We've asked them to respond to Marvin Gaye's music in a contemporary context."
One of them was a young woman, whom I believe was introduced as Caitlin Clark at the end of the show (there was no on-screen indication of her name on Yahoo!'s live feed, and hers was just one of the names Legend said when introducing the group of poets that recited during the show). Her brilliant three-and-a-half minute poem touched on racism, the state of Ferguson, Gaye's career, her father's deployment in Afghanistan, mainstream media's apathy, and her own frustration as a young person who feels like "the best I can do is tweet about it."
"Not all of us have this luxury of creating heaven out of teargas. Some of us cannot help but fall victim to war. Not all of us can imagine ourselves anywhere other than in our own skin," she recited.
The singer Sharon Jones opened the show with Legend, mostly singing duets from Gaye's pre- What's Going On catalog originally sung with Tammi Terrell. Jones, whose band the Dap Kings backed up Legend, joined him onstage for the final song, a duet version of What's Going On's title track. It is also very, very good.