Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Gaye at a portrait session for "What's Going On," released in May 1971. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" turns 50 this year, inspiring events from now through the anniversary of the album's May 1971 release that highlight its enduring influence on social activism — from Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Minnesota to Chicano lowriders in New Mexico to Standing Rock Sioux pipeline protesters.

Why it matters: Themes of three of the album's iconic hits from a half-century ago reflect some of the most significant challenges and divisions to the country today — excessive police force, climate change, and a seemingly endless war in a foreign land.

Driving the news: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently declared Jan. 20 to be What’s Going On Day to commemorate the soul singer's release of the "What's Going On" single.

  • The Motown Museum in Detroit is planning a series of events to celebrate the album.

Details: Gaye released the "What's Going On" single after co-writer and Four Tops member Renaldo "Obie" Benson saw police in Berkeley, Calif., brutality beat anti-Vietnam War protesters.

  • Gaye, disturbed by urban riots and by his brother's stories from Vietnam, added his own take to the lyrics to tell a socially conscious tale of racial unrest and violence.
  • "(Marvin) added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story than a song... we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it," Benson would later say.
  • Motown Records founder Berry Gordy didn't want the politically charged song at first. Skyrocketing sales forced him to admit he'd been wrong.

The Washington, D.C.-born Gaye followed the hit with a concept project that tackled some of the most pressing social issues of the day.

Flashback: "What mattered was the message. For the first time, I felt like I had something to say," Gaye would later say about his groundbreaking project.

The intrigue: The "What's Going On" album went platinum, and Rolling Stone would place it among the greatest albums of all time. But its influences are evident today as the nation wrestles with inequality and a racial reckoning.

  • Black Lives Matter protesters played "What's Going On" as a source of inspiration during the 20202 summer demonstrations in Minneapolis and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
  • Native American hand drummers sometimes deviate from traditional songs and sing "What's Going On" lyrics at powwows to cheering crowds.

What they're saying: "It's political music, but you can dance to it. There's pain, but there's also love. That's why so many of us keep returning to it today," said Los Angeles-based Chicano writer Matt Sedillo.

Between the lines: Wayne State University English professor and Detriot poet M.L. Liebler teaches "What's Going On" every year and students are blown away about how relevant their grandparents' music remains.

  • "That's the purpose of this older piece of art, is to remind that we've got work to do, we've got things that we need to finish what people have been singing and talking about for decades and decades."

Go deeper

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

41 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).