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Jazz Fest to Honor Motown Superstar Marvin Gaye

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Somewhere, Marvin Gaye is smiling.

The singer was known as “the Prince of Motown" and became one of that fabled label's most commercially successful artists on the strength of hits like “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

He turned musical revolutionary with “What's Going On," his 1971 masterpiece, following it with “Let's Get It On," a nearly equal masterpiece of carnal desire. By the time of Gaye's tragic death in 1984, not long after his dramatic comeback with “Sexual Healing," the singer had scaled artistic heights few could have imagined.

Yet for all his creative accomplishment and commercial validation, one lifelong desire eluded him: More than anything, Gaye wanted to be a serious jazz balladeer. The man Janet Jackson once called black culture's John Lennon dreamed of being its Frank Sinatra.

So it is fitting that Friday's opening night of the 2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival will close with a tribute to Marvin Gaye arranged by this year's artist-in-residence, Christian McBride. The celebrated bassist has programmed a set of Gaye's music to be performed by a 19-piece orchestra plus singers Lalah Hathaway, Rahsaan Patterson, Jos James and a trio of backing vocalists.

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