“What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages,” hosted by Don Lemon, debuts Sunday at eight p.m. EST on CNN.

The haunting questions of the music resurfaced to Gilfillian, now 31, following the homicide of George Floyd. In a latest interview for a brand new CNN documentary about Gaye’s work, titled “What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages,” the Grammy-nominated artist and activist recalled rediscovering the album simply earlier than heading to a protest in Nashville final summer time.

“I saw people with instruments, I saw people with drums, and I was like, man, I want to bring my guitar and I’m like, ‘What am I going to sing?”

His song choice, “What’s Going On,” was easy, but performing it was not.

“I went dwelling, picked the guitar up and began strumming by way of it. And instantly I simply began crying,” Gilfillian said.

It was an epiphany, a lyrical catharsis delivered from one man to another, a half-century later.

“He’s saying all the things, mom, mom, there’s too many people crying, brother brothers, too many people dying. Father, we need not escalate. War isn’t the reply,” Gilfillian said. “It harm to sing these phrases. I used to be legitimately unhappy and upset and indignant.”

That was the moment Gilfillian caught up with the message, “I felt like Marvin was like, yo, see, that is what I used to be attempting to say.”

Gilfillian has since launched a cowl album of “What’s Going On,” paying homage to a man who was pleading for the world to listen, tackling controversial issues, perhaps, before some could hear them.

“Who the hell was writing songs concerning the ecology?” music critic Nelson George said in a conversation for the special. “(‘Mercy, Mercy, Me’) is a music about environmental racism in 1971.”

“I’m unsure, in 1971 folks wished to listen to that we have been burning up the planet and we have been polluting the oceans.” Marvin Gaye biographer, David Ritz, told CNN for the same project. “He received the message throughout by grooving it up so craftily till you need to hear it over and again and again.”

“His melodies have been like a voice of cry.” Sheila E., who toured with Marvin Gaye in 1982-83, says in the film. “(He) talked concerning the ghetto, talked about injustice, talked concerning the battle. But he wasn’t yelling and protesting.”

Gilfillian describes Gaye’s music as a subtle seduction.

“He makes you hear the lyrics, that are crucial and potent. But then he methods you into listening to them together with his music, you recognize, by making you progress and really feel and hypnotizing you. And on the identical time, you do not know you are really getting woke.”

For Ritz, “What’s Going On” was an awakening, a healing of sorts.

“The nation was filled with angst. The nation was filled with turmoil. The nation was filled with worry. The nation was filled with anger. And we would have liked to be calmed down. We wanted to sit back,” Ritz said.

Turmoil that remains.

Gilfillian, for his part, is hoping to help change that. Proceeds from sales of the vinyl recordings of his cover work will be donated to a non-profit organization which works to remove obstacles to the democratic process in communities of color.

“I feel the following technology has the ability to utterly change this world as a result of they do not give a rattling, they see one thing that is fallacious they usually’re like, that is fallacious. And they level it out,” Gilfillian said.

And he’s grateful to Gaye for pointing the way.

“When I take heed to [‘What’s Going On’], it comforts me, you recognize, it makes me really feel like Marvin’s up there, and he is like, it doesn’t matter what we’re going by way of, you recognize, on this darkness, I really feel like no less than we do have these songs.”

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