Photo credits: John Rooney for the AP
A painting by Ernie Barnes (pictured) from 1976 called The Sugar Shack, which was used during the closing credits of the 1970s comedy Good Times as well as the album cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 release I Want You, sold at auction in New York City on May 12, 2022, for $15.3 million.
According to Christie’s Auction House, the transaction broke Barnes’ previous auction record by more than 27 times and was 76 times the top estimate of $200,000. Before Houston-based energy trader, Bill Perkins won the 10-minute auction, there were 22 bids.
“I would have paid much more. It’s more renowned than the Mona Lisa in certain parts of America,” Perkins remarked in his New York Times interview.
The Sugar Shack, which portrays a dance hall packed with vibrantly drawn Black dancers, extended as they move to the beats of an R&B band, was inspired by Barnes’ childhood recollections of his North Carolina city and is painted in the Black Romantic style. Gaye was so captivated by the photograph that he asked for permission to use it on the cover of his 1976 album.
Barnes’s masterpiece was featured in both the opening and closing credits of the hit Norman Lear-produced comedy Good Times during its fourth season (1976-77), and in future seasons was included in either the opening or closing credits. During the fifth and sixth seasons of the TV program, the artwork appeared in the Evans family apartment, implying it was the work of the oldest son and budding painter “J.J. Evans,” portrayed by Jimmie Walker.
Other Barnes paintings were periodically included in the program. Barnes himself, a professional football player in the 1960s before turning to art, made a brief appearance in two early episodes. Barnes’ artwork served as the inspiration for the album cover for Harlem hip-hop duo Camp Lo’s 1997 album Uptown Saturday Night, which was published by Profile Records and distributed by Arista Records.
The Sugar Shack also inspired a famous musical performance in the 1983 TV program Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, with actual dancers portraying those shown in the artwork.
Barnes, 70, died of leukemia in 2009.