Twenty years ago this week R&B music suffered a great loss as singer Marvin Gaye was killed by his father in April of 1984. Never has one artist had such a profound influence on R&B music and the other artists who created it.
Amazingly, when I hear Marvin’s music today, it still strikes a chord. Not only with me, but with a lot of us. It’s totally mind-blowing that “What’s Going On” has the same meaning and impact for me as if it was written today. Although years past and time changes, things really remain the same.
News flash: the world was not perfect back in 1971. The issues of that day have not been resolved. There’s still mothers crying and senseless killings all over our country. Somewhere in the world there are still senseless wars in progress as we speak. But it took a special person to be able to put those kinds of issues in the form of a song and create something that would make a person really pay attention some 30 years later.
But let’s get back to influence. When I think of Marvin Gaye, I can’t help but think of R. Kelly. If we had to look for the closest thing to Marvin Gaye in today’s music, it would have to be Kelly. The similarities are even there.
In terms of longevity, I remember R. Kelly hitting the scene in 1992. Over a 20-year span, popular music changed a lot…as did R&B. R. Kelly has been able to stay relevant in a field of music that has changed at least three times since he began his career.
“Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” released in 1962, was Marvin’s first charted R&B hit (No. 8). It was over 20-plus years later when 1984’s “Sexual Healing” reached No. 1. Imagine how much music changed from 1962 to 1984. Amazing huh?
Marvin experienced his share of personal and family issues and so has R. Kelly. Could those issues be the driving force behind the music? Could the genius in their music be a byproduct of their personal demons? Could there be a link between good music and personal issues? Of course there is.
We all have things we go through as regular people, however, it just so happens that these two individuals could turn to music to channel their pain into. As a result, we have had timeless music to help us through the pain we have to deal with. This is true even noting that Marvin’s issues eventually led to his untimely death.
I remember the first time I heard the song “Sanctified Lady,” which was released about a year after Marvin had been fatally shot. I think it was the first song I had ever heard that had to bleep out a word. Fast forward to 2014 and most of anything you hear on the radio has lyrics that you can’t listen to on traditional radio. And when those songs are played, the explicit words are dubbed out. R Kelly makes a lot of those songs these days, doesn’t he?
Bobby Brown threw around the term “King of R&B” for years. I always disagreed of course. I felt that if anyone should have had the title around that time it should have been Luther Vandross. However, after Luther’s run wound down, I would’ve considered it to be R. Kelly. He has been for a while and probably still can reasonably be considered so today. And if you would like to argue the fact, just look at the stats of longevity and record sales. The guy has it.
Still, my props go to the man I consider not only the first “King of R&B” but the one who laid the blueprint for the genre. And that’s none other than Marvin Gaye.
Reprinted from the Tri-State Defender