"If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else."
– Marvin Gaye
As part of our 41st season, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival commissioned a live concert performance of Marvin Gaye's classic album What's Going On, featuring an all-women musical team curated by renowned guitarist Felicia Collins.
The album, which has been named one of the greatest albums of all time by the likes of Rolling Stone and BBC Music, came out in 1971, only a few years before the Festival first took place at the Prospect Park Bandshell. A "many-faceted statement on conditions in the world today," according to Rolling Stone, the album was a response to the tumultuous experience of living in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Vietnam War raged, protesters marched, and students were killed. The creative revelations in What's Going On not only impacted the rest of Gaye's career, but also the overall music industry to this day.
"I remember when my parents brought that album into the house. Everybody had that album," said Felicia Collins, a vocalist and guitarist known for her work on The Late Show with David Letterman. "It was a departure from what you normally heard, and What’s Going On was a complete social commentary, when the war was happening and the hippies were protesting and people were getting assassinated. Even as a little kid, I was aware of that social unrest."
“What's Going On was very important, not just because it was good music, but because of the commentary and the time when it came out." – Felicia Collins
Collins serves as the musical director and curator of the Festival's What's Going On performance on Friday, August 9, at the Bandshell. With the current political climate and plenty of unrest and divisiveness, Gaye's album is just as relevant as it was back in 1971.
"It’s like we never moved forward," Collins said. "We’ve taken such a step backward and I can’t understand how this happened. But we're celebrating the music and celebrating that album, because it was such an iconic album."
An astonishing lineup of all-female vocalists and musicians will perform What's Going On in its entirety—a decision that Collins said was easy because "I happen to know a lot of women who can really throw down…right away, I knew who I wanted to put in this band."
The group includes Toshi Reagon, Siedah Garrett, Kecia Lewis, and more to be announced, with an all-star band featuring Terri Lyne Carrington, Bette Sussman, Alexa Tarantino, Nicki Richards, Tabitha Fair, La Tanya Hall, Valerie Naranjo, and Deah Harriott. These musicians have performed with the likes of Whitney Houston, David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, and more. Collins personally toured with Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, and Cyndi Lauper before joining the initial band for The Late Show with David Letterman, a group she performed with throughout the show's entire run. “It was 22 years and we played with everybody, literally."
Growing up in New York City, Collins was surrounded by music, but not often by female performers. Having shown an interest in guitar from an early age, her parents encouraged that interest by purchasing new guitars as she grew, and pointing out when women were performing on albums and at shows.
“You always notice when there are women in the band because it hardly ever happens," Collins said. She cites trumpet player Cynthia Robinson, and pianists Patrice Rushan and Hazel Scott as female influences. Plus, she added, "When I was a kid, I saw Charo play guitar and I was blown away."
We're sure this show will inspire a whole new generation of female guitarists and performers—and inspire you too! Join Felicia and the rest of the band on Friday, August 9, at the Bandshell for What's Going On.