I understand that today is the fortieth anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" album. That was one of the first cds I bought when I first got a cd player way back when -- I think it was inspired more by an advertisement for some hi-fi system than by an understanding of the social significance of the record. But whatever. That was a long time ago -- so long ago, in fact, that I've since lost the cd. Probably a victim of one of my many moves -- or maybe I loaned it to someone. Who knows.
Be that as it may, this reminds me of a post I put up at propertyprof about five years ago on Marvin Gaye's rendition of the National Anthem at the NBA all star game in 1983. (Here's an NPR story from 2003 about it.) It's a great, great story, which has taken on mythic proportions. There was fear Mr. Gaye wouldn't show up, then that the rendition wouldn't go well and, afterwards, about how he held the audience. It was his last appearance on national television. There was also fear when the tape began to play that they'd put in the wrong tape, because the first few seconds didn't sound like the National Anthem.
One aside here: Mr. Gaye was running late and the officials at the game asked an usher to stand in, which she was happy to do. That vignette reminds me of one of my heroes, Ralph Ellison. Mr. Ellison was working away in mostly anonymity until his 1952 novel Invisible Man appeared. There are many, many talented people out there whose talents we may never know. We were fortunate to learn of Ellison's talents--but that usher, who might have filled in for Mr. Gaye, remains anonymous. The most recent example of suddenly (though belatedly) recognized talent that comes to mind is James Carter's rendition of Po Lazarus, which Alan Lomax recorded in Mississippi in 1959. Lo those many years later, it was used as part of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? And, after some searching, Mr. Carter was located in Chicago, given a big check, and a Grammy.
Here's a link to a video of Mr. Gaye singing the "Star Spangled Banner" on youtube. And here’s a nice article about it, too.