Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marvin Gaye Sings The Anthem

The setting: The 1983 NBA All-Star Game, at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

Performing a song that invites bombast, Marvin Gaye takes a soulful approach. In this clip you'll hear hints of his forbears Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke, filtered through Gaye's own urbane, urban style.

His performance seems invented on the spot, with an unexpected phrasing that, like a cat, always lands on its feet. He doesn't just sing the notes; he makes sweet love to them. Gaye was, and is, coolness personified.

What you'll see here is no mere performance. It's an example of a dominated culture recontextualizing a work of the dominant culture to create a thing of transcendent beauty. It's a black man singing a song written by a slave owner, making it his own optimistic creation.

For centuries, the finest African-American musicians have taken Anglo songcraft and revealed the hidden layers of passion and pain we'd overlooked. Gaye's performance here epitomizes this meme, and the crowd certainly knows it.

A year later, he would be dead, killed by his own father.