Raheem DeVaughn, also known as The Love King of R&B, is taking the stage Saturday night for a one-time performance dedicated to legendary singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye. Hosted by Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, the 8 p.m. show at Filene Center in Vienna, Virginia, aims to celebrate Gaye’s contributions to the world of R&B and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his album, “What’s Going On.”
DeVaughn, who was nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the 2008 Grammy Awards, says Gaye’s music absolutely is an inspiration for his own, and he knows he has big shoes to fill for the upcoming show.
“To say that he hasn’t been a huge influence over my career, it honestly would be a bald-faced lie,” DeVaughn says. “Being able to make records that speak to intimacy and making records that speak to social consciousness … is something I’ve always been fascinated with. Not only with [Marvin Gaye], but artists like Prince and Bob Marley. It’s definitely something that I’m following in the footsteps of doing.”
This half social-conscious, half-love approach to music-making is the core of what DeVaughn is trying to invoke in his listeners. And Marvin Gaye did the same — with tracks like “What’s Going On,” he spoke truth to power and directly called out social injustices committed against Black people, all while singing with love and affection.
“What’s Going On” eerily still resonates with current events, as DeVaughn notes, “The subject matter of that particular project of what was going on then and what’s going on now, there’s a lot of similarities there. Some things have changed, some things have not, but music can be an opportunity to speak for social justice and against social injustice.”
This combo of promoting social activism and evoking the spirit of love is what DeVaughn likes to call “edu-tainment.” The songwriter says this concept was an essential aspect of his track, “Marvin Used to Say,” which is featured on his 2020 album, “What A Time To Be In Love.”
“‘What A Time To Be In Love’ is made more for lovemaking, but a tune called ‘Marvin Used to Say,’ a tribute song, [is] a song that speaks to what’s been transpiring — police brutality, the murders of innocent people at the hands of the police,” he says. “It’s a lot to talk about, and I feel like music can not only be entertainment but also be educational.”
On Saturday, DeVaughn plans to perform his original Marvin-Gaye-tribute track alongside the late artist’s biggest hits such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Sexual Healing,” “Let’s Get It On,” and many more.
DeVaughn’s admiration for Marvin Gaye, and music in general, stems from early childhood. He’d sit down and listen to his mother’s small record collection, which included some of Gaye’s albums and works from other Black artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire, and saw his father, jazz cellist Abdul Wadud, perform on tour with Stevie Wonder.
But what gave DeVaughn “the itch” was watching the 1983 NBC television special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” which commemorated the music style’s 25th year. Performing artists included Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, and a brief reunion of Diana Ross & the Supremes. Marvin Gaye also made an appearance, performing his No. 1 hit “What’s Going On” and gave a speech about Black music history.
“Seeing Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, all these phenomenal Black artists that look like me, you know what I mean, that have skin like me — I’m different, we’re different,” DeVaughn recalls, who was eight years old at the time of Motown 25’s premiere. “[I was] trying to find my own identity even at that age. It was inspiring to see somebody like Berry Gordy who ran Motown not only being honored but celebrated.”
In his 20s, DeVaughn began performing in the D.C. music scene at venues such as the State of the Union and Bar Nun on U Street NW. His debut studio album, “The Love Experience,” was released in 2005 and hit No. 9 on Billboard 200’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. At this point in his career, DeVaughn often wore a crown and cape at his shows and dubbed himself the “Underground King.” Later, he described himself as an “R&B hippie neo-soul rock star” to explain the complex styling of his music.
“I had a body of work that could be easily misunderstood, so I wanted people to understand the passion I had for so many different kinds of music. All of these elements are not only in me but also in my body of work.”
Nowadays, DeVaughn is keeping it ever so soulful as The Love King of R&B. His latest album, “Lovesick,” was recorded prior to the coronavirus pandemic in collaboration with producer Apollo Brown. Since its release in June, “Lovesick” has been viewed nearly 30,000 times on YouTube and has received positive reviews in publications such as Paste Magazine, which states: “With the thrilling addition of Brown, DeVaughn rises to the occasion and gives further credence to the power of R&B.”
“People are raving about it,” DeVaughn says. “Every other day it’s like some blogger that I’m not aware of or on Twitter, on Instagram or something, that has dope things to say about this body of work.”
The Love King says he’s looking forward to bringing a soulful experience to the crowd at Filene Center Saturday night and hopes he can revive some memories for people who were lucky enough to see Marvin Gaye perform while he was still alive.
“I think it’ll be great for them to walk away from it taken back in terms of when they saw Marvin for five bucks or two dollars or whatever at one of the local venues here at that time,” DeVaughn says. “And to just have a good time. It’s about the spirit of love — something I always try to evoke and promote through my music. It’s definitely a music lover’s event.”
DeVaughn’s entire discography, including his latest release “Lovesick,” are available on all digital streaming platforms. On Saturday August 14, He will be performing alongside artists Daley, Eric Roberson, Yahzarah, Bee Boisseau, Attinshun Band, Micah Robinson, and Chuck Brown Band at Filene Center. The gate opens at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32 and are on sale now at wolftrap.org.