As a musician and a son Devon Gilfillian recalls his father, a veteran wedding singer, coordinating with Marvin Gaye’s legendary “What’s Going On” album in their house. While the groove of the song was palpable, the lyrics were incomprehensible for a young Gilfillian.
The terrifying questions of the song returned to Devon, now 31, after the murder of George Floyd. In an interview for a CNN documentary about Marvin Gaye’s life and work, named “What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages,” a black rights activist and the Grammy-nominated artist remembered finding the album right before going to a protest in Nashville last summer.
“I saw people with drums, I saw people with instruments, and I was like, man, I want to bring my guitar, and I’m like, ‘What am I going to play?’
Performing “What’s Going On” was not easy.
“I went home, picked my guitar up and began strumming through it. And instantly, I just started crying,” Devon said.
It was a lyrical catharsis, a vision delivered from one man to another, 50 years later.
“He’s saying everything, mother; there’s too many of us crying, brothers, too many of us dying. Father, we don’t need to accelerate. War is not the answer,” Devon said. “It pains in my heart to sing those words. I was legitimately upset, sad and angry.”
That was the moment Devon caught up with the message, “I felt like Marvin was saying, this is what I was trying to tell.”
Devon has since launched a cover album of “What’s Going On,” honouring the man who tackled controversial issues and pleading for the world to listen.