Celebrating Women of African Descent

Black Ensemble Theater, The Marvin Gaye Story

When I was in the ninth grade I went down to Skippy White’s records and bought Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. I think I had it for two days before my father took it. I tried to give him some explanation about my rights but that didn’t float and from then on I only heard the song if it came on the radio. Marvin Gaye was cool in the eighties. Everyone talks about Whitney singing the national anthem but it was Marvin Gaye who first put the soul into the song when he sang the anthem at the 1983 All-Star game in Los Angeles. YouTube it right now.

He was great, right? His life however was quite the tragedy. Killed by his father and battling drug addiction his life was tormented. Like Billie Holiday I had no idea the demons he wrestled with till I saw a play based on his life.

Last month I visited Chicago for the first time. If you’ve never been definitely add it to the bucket list because it is an uber hip place despite the rough reputation. The gem of my trip was the Black Ensemble Theater and their interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s life. The play was written by African-American playwright Jackie Taylor who is also the founder of theater.

I was expecting not to be so moved by the play because although Marvin had a brief career lift in the eighties he was still my mother’s generation. I was quite wrong. It was an awesome show. The music was wonderful, all those Motown classics just make you want to get up and dance. The cast was exceptional, especially Rashawn Thompson, bringing to life to life a complicated man, his demons, and the characters that surrounded him. I don’t want to give away too much but the last scene where Marvin’s father kills him and the actress playing Marvin’s mother Yadina Udeen sings the song  ‘He Killed My Son’ will rip your heart to shreds. I spoke to her after the play was over and she said Taylor wrote that song specifically for her to sing. Udeen put her whole soul into those lyrics. It was, for me, one of the finest moments in theater.

By Shahidah Ali

Shahidah is a mother, political enthusiast currently residing in Rhode Island. Her desire is to be an inspiration to younger women of color as others have been to her. 


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