When it comes to R&B male vocalists who began their careers in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, three of the industry’s best who continue to perform today, each of whom have sat down with this writer on several occasions prior to or after their concerts, include Jeffrey Osborne, Peabo Bryson and Brian McKnight.
Truth be told, their music dominates this writer’s playlist.
And on Friday, Jan. 14, one of the trio, Brian McKnight, showed why he remains one of the most respected singers and songwriters in the business, captivating his audience at the Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md., in a concert that showcased his still-amazing voice which includes a strong falsetto an impressive range and his proficiency as a guitarist and pianist.
He opened the show with a tribute to one of the District’s most celebrated entertainers, native Washingtonian Marvin Gaye, with a rendition of Gaye’s classic “Sexual Healing.”
But make no mistake. While McKnight, now 52 years old and a 30-year veteran in the industry, has recently embraced a new look — a smartly coiffed salt-and-pepper beard and may have added a few extra pounds — he’s still just as good, if not better, at his craft.
And although many of today’s singers need a little help from modern technological gadgets to help them maintain pitch and vocal integrity, McKnight requires no such assistance.
In fact, his voice remains an essential part of his arsenal. And from the response of the audience, men and women alike, his poetic lyrics and beautiful melodies caused many to fondly recall moments from the past when that special someone brought joy into their lives.
Throughout his nearly 90-minute performance, McKnight’s voice alternatively offered sounds associated with a quiet prayer before soaring to the rafters of the theater, displaying his ability to hold notes for multiple measures or bend them with perfection before modulating from one key to another. At times, he delivered his message a capella, without the support of his talented band.
Those who ventured out on the start of the King holiday and braved the cold found themselves rewarded with a multimedia performance with the theme “Crazy Love” in which McKnight spoke about finally finding his soulmate.
Unfortunately, McKnight employed tracks in lieu of live background voices, perhaps a decision he could not avoid due to the challenges surrounding COVID-19. However, he expressed his gratitude for being able to return to the stage in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I so appreciate at a time like this that’s so crazy, that we’re able to come together tonight,” he said. “We had a death in our family about a month ago and I wasn’t sure I could do this again after 30 years. But my wife told me that I could not disappoint my fans who have supported me for so many years. And so, I’m giving you all of my love songs … everything that I have.”
McKnight, a gifted singer, a prolific songwriter and an accomplished instrumentalist, took to both the keyboards and guitar while performing several of his biggest hits that include “Back At One,” “One Last Cry,” “Still,” “Anytime” and “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda.”
He also paid tribute to some of the biggest stars from the ’90s in a medley of hits made popular by Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston, augmented by videos of the iconic performers captured while performing their memorable songs.
McKnight shared his thoughts about the decade which would serve as his debut into the industry.
“I’ve been writing music since I was 17 and 98.7 % of the songs I perform are mine,” he said. “I came into my own during the ’90s and consider it as the greatest decade for music because it was all about love. But I’ll admit, back then I didn’t always believe in true love. But I wrote what I thought people wanted to hear.
“Then, 10 years ago to this month, I met the woman who changed everything about me. Now, I’m finally a good man … a good man for her and her only,” said McKnight, a divorcee and father of two sons, while referring to his current wife, Dr. Leilani Malia Mendoza, who he married on Dec. 29, 2017.
In a moving tribute to his wife, McKnight sang “Nobody,” a song he said he was inspired to write because of their love for one another and which he called “the best song I’ve ever written.”
McKnight suggested that he may soon bring an end to touring and performing, perhaps to focus on other ventures or his personal life. But his scores of fans, including this writer, certainly hope not.
Two couples could be seen running into the auditorium over an hour after McKnight took to the stage. For them, their only hope remained to go back home and turn on their CD player. Maybe next time.