Motown Museum to mark first ‘What’s Going On Day’ on 50th anniversary of release

Marvin Gaye classic still relevant today

DETROIT – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has declared Jan. 20 as “What’s Going On Day” in the state, marking the 50th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s Motown classic.

The Motown Museum says it will use this commemorative date to kick off several moments in 2021 celebrating the half-century anniversary of the release of Gaye’s impactful What’s Going On album. Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry made the announcement.

“This is a significant moment for the museum, our community, and Motown fans all around the world, and we’re thankful that the State of Michigan has partnered with us to recognize this date as we begin our year-long celebration of this album,” said Terry. “As we come out of a very challenging year, it’s more important than ever to reflect on Marvin Gaye’s prolific and timeless lyrics to inspire a spirit of connection in 2021. “What’s Going On” Day will serve as a reminder of his impact and legacy—bringing awareness to the issues of today, encouraging active dialogue between groups and individuals and acknowledging the important role Motown music continues to play in uniting us all.”

As the first step in commemorating What’s Going On and its legacy this year, Motown Museum is asking fans to visit its social media channels—Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—to join the conversation and share the personal impact the lyrics of “What’s Going On” have made in their lives. In addition to the statewide tribute on January 20, the museum will honor Gaye’s groundbreaking album and words throughout the year with a series of upcoming virtual celebrations, signature events and an infusion of Gaye’s legacy in its 2021 programming lineup, including its spoken word poetry competition, Motown MIC: The Spoken Word, and its singing competition, AMPLIFY: The Sound of Detroit.

For more information on Motown Museum, visit Originally inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, the song—recorded at Motown Studios A and B in Detroit—was composed by Benson, Al Cleveland, and Gaye, and produced by Gaye himself. It was also the first album to credit Motown’s in-house studio band, The Funk Brothers. “What’s Going On” would go on to sell millions of copies and became Gaye’s second-most successful Motown song to date, after “Let’s Get It On.” The groundbreaking album was named No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s 2020 list of ’500 Greatest Albums of All Time.’

Gov. Whitmer recognized the day in a State of Michigan special tribute.

“Having this tribute on the calendar provides us with an important moment—one where we can come together as a unified state to pause, reflect and appreciate the need for ideas, perspective, love and understanding. These are values that mean more today than ever before,” said Whitmer. “Through the recognition of “What’s Going On” Day, we hope to bring awareness to Marvin Gaye’s profound words as his timeless music remains in our hearts and minds and continues inspiring generations to come.”

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter.