“R Kelly Is Today’s Marvin Gaye” And Other Questionable Music Comparisons

Gaye's relationship with Janis Hunter inspired...

Gaye’s relationship with Janis Hunter inspired him during recording. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last Sunday we were hosting a couple of friends for dinner: the type of friends who like to drink Manhattans, talk about philosophy and pose random questions for us all to get silly about before eating, drinking more and hopping on the piano for singalongs that range from Broadway to Elton John to Journey.  We love these friends of ours.

At some point while the salmon was still smoking on the cedar plank, this question was posed to me out of indignance as the female half of our favorite heterosexual couple (yes, we have some “eclectic” friends) asked “do YOU think R Kelley is today’s Marvin Gaye?!”.  Apparently she had engaged in a lively debate on this a few days earlier with another friend of hers.  Her issue:  she LOVES Marvin Gaye but thinks R Kelley is a perv and hates the thought of the comparison.  But when I asked her to elaborate on her conception of the personal and musical context that shapes each artist’s offering, she described both much the same:  dysfunctional personal and social lives that lead to passionate music.  And as I compared the two, each in their era basically wrote music to “get it on” by…so I said “I can see how the comparison is valid”.

Then I saw another post this morning on LinkedIn asking “can Duke Ellington be compared to Bach?”.  Also a good one and more appropriate for the “intellectual” crowd in the American Anthropological Association LinkedIn Group (
So, now the anthropologist in me wants to connect some “ethnomusicology” dots.  Because different musical forms definitely had significance when compared across eras.  But then there are artists who, in essence, represent the same genre from different points in time…or genres that had a similar influence on music.  For example:  Classical and Jazz?  Rock N Roll (from its introduction to American culture) and Pop music of today? R&B from the 60’s to 90’s?

Talk to me about the role of each of these pairs of artists and how they compare to one another based on the influence their music had in their day:
R Kelly and Marvin Gaye

Duke Ellington and Bach

Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson

And what about some others to think about?

I know my readers love their music AND love to wax philosophical…so let’s have it….

Categories: Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnomusicology, Music, pop culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on ““R Kelly Is Today’s Marvin Gaye” And Other Questionable Music Comparisons

  1. I sent a LinkdIn post about Duke Ellington…hoping a conversation such as this would evolve. Thank you! As a Cultural Anthropologist, but not an ethnomusicologist…I’m thinking The Duke is one of the world’s best, but is not getting recognition in the category with Bach mainly because he’s black and much more contemporary. Maybe in another 100 years?! Also, I LOVE Marvin, and was listening to his Anthology double CD collection in the car as I drove to Boston yesterday. I don’t know R Kelly’s work, I must be honest …as I’m a decade or so older than you who are listening to that genre… BUT to me none of these folks can measure up to not only Marvins smooth tones, but the messages he imparted while he thrilled us with his voice… Trouble Man, What’s Goin On…and the like are still resonating in today’s society as contemporary social ills that our world has not yet dealt effectively with!
    Rest in peace, Marvin and Duke… we salute you!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful and enlightening reply! And truth be told I have listened to more Duke (thanks to my parents raising me on Jazz music) and Marvin than R Kelly. There are few modern R&B artists that do it for me…But I Love love love me some Neo Soul…

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