John Legend on Marvin Gaye Tribute: 'I'll Do the Best I Can'

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Although R&B pop star John Legend is riding high on the success of his fourth studio album, Love in the Future, which has yielded the hits "All of Me" and "You & I (Nobody in the World)," he'll be taking a break from his celebrated catalog to sing the tunes of another music legend  Marvin Gaye.

Teamed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Legend will perform live Gaye's entire 1971 album What's Going On, from Los Angeles’s iconic Hollywood Bowl. Here, Legend answers our interview questions about this momentous show.

YAHOO MUSIC: How were you introduced to Marvin Gaye?

JOHN LEGEND: My father came of age in Ohio in the '60s and '70s, just a few hours from Detroit. He and his siblings were huge Motown fans. From the Temptations to Stevie Wonder to Smokey Robinson to Diana Ross to Marvin Gaye, this was the signature music of my dad's youth. And he passed that love for Motown down to our generation. I've always seen Marvin Gaye as one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music. His music has been hugely influential in shaping my style as a singer and songwriter.
What is the significance of his What’s Going On album for you?

What's Going On was an artistic masterpiece. It was beautifully performed and arranged by Marvin and his collaborators. It had a strong sense of cohesion and clarity in its vision. And it was such a bold choice for an artist known primarily for his sweet love songs to make such provocative album with such a strong political message. But what made it so great was that it didn't come off too preachy. He was able to make this "message" record that was still sensual and beautiful. It was still love music.

What's Going On
What's Going On

What made you choose this album to perform?

I was originally contacted a couple years ago by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Marvin having performed the album live at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra. I was honored to perform Marvin's vocals then, as we recreated this iconic moment. It was such a wonderful experience that we had to figure out a way to do it again. This time, we're bringing the performance to the West Coast, to L.A.'s iconic Hollywood Bowl.
Do you feel any pressure performing the album in its entirety?

Well, I'm under no illusion that I'm as gifted a vocalist as Marvin Gaye, but I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to perform this amazing music. The standard is clearly very, very high, and I'll do the best I can to honor his incredible legacy.

Whose idea was it for you and the Dap-Kings to work together on this?

My management team and I thought the Dap-Kings had the perfect sound for this sort of performance, and the special bonus is that they have Sharon Jones, who is a phenomenal singer and a force of nature. The first half of the show will feature me and Sharon doing some of Marvin's greatest duets prior to the What's Going On performance.

What album track on this record deserves more attention, and why?

I have always been a big fan of "Wholy Holy." I love Marvin's version, and I'm also a huge fan of Aretha Franklin's version from the Amazing Grace recordings.

What song is taking you the longest to nail?

None of the songs is significantly harder than the rest. I'll spend a decent amount of time practicing all of it.
If you were to write a politically charged, message album, what would be the focus?

I've already recorded a politically charged album with the Roots, called Wake Up. This album was primarily an album of covers, with one original song called "Shine." There's so much going on in the world that concerns me. Extending human rights to those who have been oppressed or left behind, fighting poverty, improving our schools, combating racism, ending the war on drugs, and more.

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