Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music


School of Music

First Advisor

Dr. Samantha Inman

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephen Lias

Third Advisor

Mr. James Adams

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Court Carney


Marvin Gaye’s first self-produced album, What’s Going On is a timeless work in American popular music. This thesis illuminates many of the intricacies that went in to the creation of the album and discusses its relevance during the Civil Rights Movement. Chapter 1 provides a background in popular music analysis and the genre of Soul music. Chapter 2 includes a biography of Gaye and a brief history of the Detroit record label known as Motown. The collaboration of musicians and engineers at Motown, along with Gaye’s influences from his personal life and music career, had profound effects on the outcome of What’s Going On. Chapters 3 and 4 provide analyses of individual songs from the album, discussing lyrics, form, harmony, and melody. Chapter 5 discusses the album as a whole by comparing it to a song cycle.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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Music Theory Commons



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