The only live performance by Marvin Gaye of his landmark 1971 album What’s Going On — his first concert for four years — is to receive its first standalone release by Motown/UMe. Recorded at the Kennedy Centre in his home town of Washington during the city’s Marvin Gaye Day on 1 May 1972 and then shelved for decades, it was released on CD in 2001 as part of the expanded deluxe edition of the album, but it has never before been issued on vinyl or as a CD in its own right.
The vinyl and CD packages of What’s Going On Live include rare images from Gaye’s performance as well as new liner notes by his biographer, David Ritz, who describes it as “an invaluable and vibrant historical document marking a milestone in the artist’s career.”
The album includes the only known live recordings of Gaye performing four songs: ‘That’s The Way Love Is’ and ‘You’ (which opened the Washington concert as part of a meditative 13-minute medley), ‘Right On’ and ‘Wholy Holy.” A delay in switching reel-to-reel tapes during the concert meant that his performance of the What’s Going On hit ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’ was not successfully recorded.
Marvin Gaye Day began with the Motown idol’s speech to students at Cardozo High, the school he had himself attended. Then a motorcade took Gaye and his parents to various other locations around Washington, including the office of city mayor Walter Washington, who presented Gaye with a key to the city.
Then came a VIP reception at the US House of Representatives’ Rayburn House Office Building, before Gaye took to the stage of the Kennedy Centre at around 11pm. It was his first live show since 1968, and he gave only one other brief performance in the year of 1972 the following month, a short set in Chicago on 27 September which was filmed and recorded for the documentary Save the Children.
Gaye later told Ritz about the withdrawal from performing that followed the tragic early death of his friend and Motown recording partner Tammi Terrell. “I understood that I’d been punishing myself by staying away so long,” he said. “I’d been denying myself love, and that’s one of the most foolish things a man can do.”
Of Marvin Gaye Day, he added: “It was certainly the biggest day of my parents’ life. Here they came to Washington in the thirties without a penny, and their son was being honoured by the mayor as some sort of hero. At least on this one day I felt like I made Father proud.”