The fast pace of 21st Century has dawn upon my very soul this morning. I have enjoyed, make that rejoiced after listening to the Queen of Soul singing her invention of the Sage Marvin Gaye’s Wholy Holy. I say invention because it was her genius, composing and fine tuning the song by Marvin Gaye, Alfred W. Cleveland, Renaldo Benson from the iconic classic album What’s Going On. Without reservations the Queen transformed this song from the mode of rhythm and blues into a sacred, moving gospel based song. It is a feat which she is not given credit deserving. The music producer Jerry Wexler could not deny that his production marveled at her composing talent on this unbelievable album. A historical event that goes into another sphere of spiritual, deep penetration of healing power as witness by Gaye himself proudly accepting Aretha Franklin artistry as a blessing to transform the song into more than great rhythmic blues. She owns the translation of a message that Marvin Gaye had been inspired by this world during a time of war, fleeing peace, narcotics, sexuality and gender empowerment. A serious story in Franklin’s live album that takes the traditional gospel song ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ into new heights. Inspiring with her powerful voice telling the story of faith, hope, celebration. The perfect storm, with the stars aligned for this gospel album. They say Marvin was thrilled, amazed how Aretha had produced his song into a gospel worthy effort. The album is Amazing Grace. It was a surprise for many with no warning of such a translated masterpiece. This morning I was listening as I had reviewed the day before. It was God sent indeed.
Wholy is a Thelonious Monk move by Queen Aretha. Wholy is a word developed in that space of a street driven creation living beyond the landscape of what the traditional eye, ear lives. That be third city. Wholy, whorish, whores, wishful to be like the holy life. Disqualified for filtered reasons. Pharisees? Bourgeois? Elites? What is Who-ly? Aretha took it, blessed it? She reset the art form shifting to gospel with that rich mix of blues, jazz, rhythm a gift from that visionary, seer Marvin Gaye. We understand the traditional word of holy. Holy, a sacred moment, higher ground, that respectful place of Negro tradition which is shared with American tradition. Religionists should note it is not own by one religion. Hardly, the tradition is definitely shared deeply with others, Holy, reserved for the traditional voice. Wholy, is the genius of Marvin Gaye articulating his understanding that even those sinning in the Underground, underworld could have a connection to a wholy moment. Wholy is a manque’ defining of not being quite good enough to enter into a holy world. Marvin Gaye knew of this mode of living, desiring to redeem his wayward ways. The critical position especially for those weak to the vices of this world Gaye allowed salvation of sort by creating this critical term for this song. Wholy is infused with the holy tradition and moved ahead to the holy status. The story, the hook is clearly to help your fellow human being. Gaye was advocating in its original composition of rhythm and blues the core value of religious dogma. His tormented life reflected secrets that culturally exist in others. World communities know drug addiction, perversions of all sort, challenges that are not identical in various cultural experiences. In the dysfunctional black families promise, swear that forbidden fruit does not exist. The proud black church with its ultra conservative values denies as other cultures likewise that deviance, imperfection, transgressions exist in their structured moral world. Marvin Gaye’s father was an alleged minister. Reality tells a history of mental abuse, sexual abuse, harsh physical abuse, constant domestic violence. Marvin knew of internal and external sin, strife, and confusion in his youthful days in D.C.. Marvin Gaye knew the streets of Washington D.C. the black side of D.C. Shadows of urban America taught Marvin Gaye about conflicted mainstream mores vs. the camouflaged third city denizens. The illicit narcotics commerce that served millions in America. Indeed, the city dwellers of course. Yet, dope consumers are merely the tip of the iceberg. Caucasians, others from different ethnic groups prowled the inner cities as did the slave owners took slave women during that wicked era in America not as women. No. Never. Raped, daily as stunt dummies for themselves and menfolks including a rites of passage for young white boys entering Manhood. Suburbia and rural America belonged to the Wholy divide despite their denial. Prophetic vision with a rare understanding as he looked in the rear view mirror not forgetting those who again wore the Wholy robe. Love is the base theme of this historical recording What’s Going On.
Those at the bottom of social status in the urban story known well how oppressive the traditional pecking order can be… Wholy, is the voice, ears and eyes of those not allowed to speak. Wholy, means common ground, lowly status many times. It was Aretha Franklin who also understood the rich black history that divided itself into the sociology of surviving the ungodly force of racism, sexism and classisms. Aretha understood the black church as her father an iconic civil rights pastor grasp an understanding of those wholy and holy. An uniquely qualified preacher of great integrity Rev. C.L. Franklin an ally of Revered Dr. Martin Luther King embraced his entire community. Taking his congregation from the infamous Black Bottom on the east side of Detroit over to his new church on Linwood which allowed history a tour of inner city religious diversity.
The first house of worship on Linwood Avenue housed the Shrine of the Black Madonna which held Black Christian Nationalism leader Rev. Albert Cleage (Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman). It is important to consider the political significance of Linwood Avenue being the historical roots of Detroit religious community. The Shrine of the Black Madonna stands out as the voice of social change in black America. The Shrine was founded by the transformation of its well educated pastor. Reverend Albert Cleage authored the books on the Black Christian Nationalism. Changing his ideology after a long history in traditional integrated Christianity his intellectual led to his philosophical shift giving way to economics, community empowerment and political participation. Like Marvin Gaye, the Shrine of the Black Madonna leadership was about social change. The ministry of Reverend Cleage had decided to address social change from a non traditional perspective. The religion of Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, C.L. Franklin and Cleage recognized the plight of the black community demanded social justice.
Further down Linwood is New Bethel Baptist Church were Reverend C.L. Franklin led the large congregation alliance with the civil rights movement. Franklin, father of iconic singer Aretha Franklin is considered one of the greatest preachers. Reverend Franklin was a close ally of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New Bethel was a landmark of prosperity, rooted traditional Southern Black Christian value system.
The Sacred Heart Seminary is located on Linwood also. The Catholic seminary has a black painted face of Jesus on the campus grounds. This painting of Jesus took place during the 1967 insurrection which took place near the Sacred Heart Seminary. Many times the public does not realize that blacks, browns played an important participation role in the Catholic Church. Again, like others in the neighborhoods the Catholic Church activism was strong for social justice. It is part of Gaye’s theme, theory of universal love. What’s Going On promoted universal love for the entire planet.
Finally, Temple Number One, the Nation of Islam, is about a half mile away from the seminary. The teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad leadership was a major influence in the 60s, 70s. The Nation was a major influence, a tremendous positive image of organized black religion. Controversial and provocative the media would describe some reflections that did not understand nor report the actual dealings of the different religions. This was especially true in the case of the Nation of Islam. The Malcom X connection is alone a powerful historical accounting that is sacred. There were diverse religions in the regions. This notion that the third city is monotheistic is simply incorrect. Those in need in social oppression found religion as a life saver. The significance of Linwood is the range of diverse religious teaching at that time in Detroit history. The working class, professional class found their religious worship a mixed bag. The streets allowed religious practice to take on different stances. Class issues were interesting as how some folks selected different expressions of religion. Marvin Gaye was acutely aware of the role of religion, gospel music for the black community. He was also very familiar with jazz, blues and be bop. Perhaps, besides the theme of Berry Gordy’s music for young America it was always the music of a people living in the city. It was not race music anymore. Nope. It was black music as defined by varying musical themes. The album What’s Going On sounds today as if it was written last week. Gaye, gave deep insightful visionary pictures, themes about war, poverty, ecology, sports, politics, violence, religious philosophy and most important a narrative of hope, resolve and love. Let us give the two icons their just due. The creation of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is a classic, milestone narrative, a tremendous social commentary. The composing of social commentary is something that artist have done for decades. Music is essential in communicating with human beings. Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead. B.B. King, Paul McCarthy, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, and many other artist have used social movements as their messages. The jazz world has John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Billie Holliday and many more expressing their social activism in their music.
Aretha Franklin translation of Marvin Gaye’s Wholy Holy is symbolic of an infusion of social justice and music. Their union of this song speaks to all sorts of people. It says perhaps more to those battling all types of challenges that surpasses social ills enough to become a lighting rod for change. In closing I can only wonder if the Spirit moved Marvin Gaye to create Wholy as a sociological term/word? Did the Spirit move Aretha Franklin to restructure the rhythm and blues element infusion with gospel substance? It reminds me of a powerful relationship between legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and the iconic civil rights leadership Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was known to have rely on Mahalia Jackson powerfully soothing voice to give him encouragement, hope in his moments of darkness. Long before cell phones he would have his assistants call her on the phone. He would ask her to sing to him for uplifting of his spirit. Mahalia during the famous civil rights gathering at the March on Washington as he began his critical speech. She would shout out to Reverend King…
”Tell them Martin, tell’em about the Dream, Martin…”
Aretha Franklin, like Mahalia took Marvin Gaye song and told society about his dream…indeed