Some entertainers sing while others provide the groove as instrumentalists. But in rare instances a gifted individual comes along who brings a third component to their arsenal as a songwriter/producer — like the multi-Grammy Award winner Kenneth Brian Edmonds. Of course, anyone familiar with the cavalcade of stars who have earned their place at the top of the R&B world probably know Edmonds, 58, by his professional moniker — “Babyface” — a name given to him by funk master Bootsy Collins for whom he played early in his career because of his “youthful look.”
And when he takes to the stage on Saturday, Aug. 5 as one of several headliners, including his good friend Fantasia, for the always-anticipated Summer Spirit Festival, he says he’s going to simply do what he’s been doing since he began his professional career in the mid-70s, bringing “passion, an honest performance and making sure everyone has a really good time.”
“It’s going to be a show to remember if for no other reason than because Fantasia, who I truly love and admire, will be there too and who goes all the way with unbelievable emotion,” he said.
“I’ve never been known as a party guy but when I’m on stage I guess I become someone else. At some point, I’ll perform a medley of the songs I’ve written and produced, taking a walk down memory lane. I’m always surprised when I see the audience’s reaction when they realize that many of my songs have been a significant part of their lives,” said Babyface, who’s penned a plethora of chart-topping songs for other entertainers including Midnight Star’s “No Parking on the Dance Floor,” Whitney Houston’s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” along with rest of the 1995 soundtrack from the film “Waiting to Exhale” that also featured hits he wrote for Mary J. Blige and Brandy and the Boyz II Men classic, “End of the Road.”
The shy Indianapolis native, who hails from a family of six boys, including brothers Melvin and Kevon Edmonds who once shared the spotlight as members of After 7, first began writing songs during his youth to express his emotions. Since then, he’s gone on to conquer almost every imaginable musical genre — something he says he still finds “a little hard to believe.”
“Music seems to have always been an integral part of my life but I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to work with so many icons, so many celebrities and now, with so many new, younger talents — new kids on the block,” he said. “I’ve had my share of awards and I have achieved great success in my career. But with all that, I’m simply grateful that I’m still here, still going, still able to do that for which I have hoped for as long as I can remember, what has always mattered the most — reaching people, touching their hearts, minds and souls through my music.”
He shared two personal stories that he says he’s never forgotten: one involving his mother and the other with Stevie Wonder. In both instances, he emphasizes the lessons he learned have remained with him as sources of inspiration and encouragement.
“My mother would tell me to focus not on what people said but what they did,” he recalled. “She also told me that we can learn from our experiences, even if they were painful as long as we don’t do the same thing or make the same decision again. So, I thank God for even those who wanted to hurt or take advantage of me. They showed me what not to do.”
“I played close attention to Stevie Wonder as I was growing up and was amazed by his humility. Despite the many awards he received, the record number of Grammys he earned, he never talked about himself, his talent, or his accomplishments. He only spoke about his concern for others — his community, the world. I first time I met him was at Jezebel’s (the iconic, trailblazing soul food restaurant in New York City owned and operated by the late Alberta Wright) and after greeting one another he started singing one of my very first solo hits. He knew every word. That’s when I knew that what I was doing mattered.”
Babyface said he truly “grateful” that he’s been blessed so richly and that the ride is still continuing, adding “I’m savoring this journey.”
“People often ask me what song among the many that I’ve written is my favorite. I don’t really know how to answer that. I like to say I haven’t written that song yet. Besides, when I’m on stage, when people are singing along with me, or singing along with an artist who’s performing a song I’ve written, that’s the moment that makes me most proud — that’s my favorite song,” he said.
Summer Spirit comes to the DMV on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 5-6 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Saturday’s lineup includes: Babyface, Fantasia, Common, De La Soul and more. For tickets go to ticketfly.com or visit the Merriweather Box Office. Showtime for both days is 2 p.m.