If you had to name your favorite male soul singer — one whose voice can instantly transform a lukewarm rendezvous into an all-night romantic maelstrom, bring tears to the eyes of those known for their stoic personas — or even take one whose life has long been bereft of “fire and desire” back to a time when passion ruled, who would top your list?
Well, for those who prefer old school R&B — music with affirming themes with lyrics about love, life and more love — interpreted by gifted vocalists known for having mastered techniques that can cause women to swoon or move feuding couples to kiss and make up, few can “bring it” better than two-time Grammy and Oscar award-winning singer Peabo Bryson.
Now, armed with a new CD, “Stand for Love,” the 21st studio album of his career and a collaboration between Peabo and the hit-making, talented team of producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the “voice of love” has taken his show back on the road including a stop on the evening of Sept. 22 for two shows in the greater Washington area.
Fans in the DMV reacted to his long-awaited return in ways that illustrate just how much Peabo’s music, showmanship and the down-home approach he humbly employs while extending himself to anyone he meets — from “forever” friends to newly-made acquaintances — continue to warm hearts and touch souls. Some fans, including this writer, have traveled with Peabo since the early days of his impressive career which took off like a rocket after he achieved his first top 10 R&B hit in 1978 with “Reaching for the Sky.”
Perhaps the most convincing example of the enormity of Peabo Bryson’s staying power rests with ticket sales for his two shows at the Bethesda Blues Jazz & Supper Club (Bethesda, MD) which both sold out in record time and resulted in lines for fortunate ticket holders which stretched for several city blocks prior to both showtimes.
Peabo: ‘I Live My Life with Gratitude’
While speaking with Peabo Bryson, he commented on his life, his music and how he’s always felt blessed and grateful for being able to do that which he loves so much.
“People are still making music with good lyrics, quality music, real good music. And I’m proud and grateful to be part of that group. There’s nothing wrong with becoming successful but at some point, you have to decide whether you want to be you, original and unique, or to become the caricature that others may want. You know the decision I made and believe me, I’ve never regretted it.”
“I’ve been so fortunate and blessed because of the faith that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have had in me. This project didn’t happen overnight — it took years. But they never gave up on it, they never backed down from what they believed would work best and they never doubted me. Finally, we’ve been able to do this together, our way, and I’m proud of the result. I have a few projects in the developing stage and you’ll hear about them soon. For now, this CD and the love I’ve been receiving because of it — that’s what has my attention.”
“I sing love songs because we all want love. Songs dealing with life, love and relationships will always be in vogue. They never get old. Young women today want the real deal — not just a part of it. It’s essential that when you enter a relationship, that it’s based on friendship. The body changes, looks fade — the exterior will not remain the same. But real love, real friendship, that’s forever. I’m happily married to the love of my life and we have a healthy, 8-month-old baby boy. I’m 67 years old and I feel like I can keep reaching higher, doing different things — things I never dreamed I’d one day successful achieve. Life just can’t get any better!”
“Grateful, grateful, grateful — that sums it up.”
The Fans Have Their Say
While waiting to enter the club (a story in itself given its long history as a welcome port of entertainment for the area’s Black community and how a new team of Black owners has completed giving the venue a makeover, going for an appearance more reminiscent of the hot spot during its former heyday, also revising the lineup of entertainers to resemble one which more closely caters to the musical predilections of old school audiences), I spoke to a few people about Peabo Bryson and how his music has impacted their lives.
Bill Henderson, 57, SE: This is my first time seeing Peabo but I know I’m going to be blessed especially when he sings “I’m So Into You.”
Carolyn Epps, 70, NE: No one else comes close to him. He’s classy, debonair, smooth and his music and voice — amazing. Plus, we [referring to her date/companion, Bill] love old school music.
Tashon Butler Young, Greenbelt: The first time I saw Peabo was at Constitution Hall years ago. This time I brought my mother and aunts because I wanted them to see him live. No song moves me more than “Feel the Fire.” I’m gonna buy his new CD right away because I hear it’s more classic Peabo Bryson.
Melvina Butler, 74, Native Washingtonian: I’m so excited. My daughter (Tashon) introduced me to him and his music years ago; I’ve been a fan. When he sings, I’m reminded of folks from my era especially Sam Cooke. Both singers were smooth, sophisticated and known for their beautiful love songs.
D. Cowan, 69, Atlantic City: I’m a military brat but I remember when I moved into my very own first house and set up one room like a little night club — blue lights, drums that I played and the music of Peabo Bryson at the top of my album collection. He’s a trained vocalist and that shows in all of his music. His duets with Roberta Flack are my favorites but of course I’d add “Feel the Fire” and “I’m So Into You” too.
D. Moss, 48, Hyattsville, Onyx Lithicum, 46: I’ve been a fan my whole life. My boyfriend (Onyx) surprised me, telling me to keep the date open but not why. When we got here all I could say was, “Oh, my God, I am so excited.” I thought we were just going to dinner. I guess I like “Beauty and the Beast” the best but all of Peabo’s music makes it so easy to fall in love, to be in love. I like feeling this way.” [words from Ms. D. Moss]
Angelina Knox, 50, Rod Foster, 50: We’ve seen Peabo before and we just love him. We’ve been fans since our teen years. There’s nothing better than when he sings “Feel the Fire” — nothing.
From the Editor: Peabo Bryson has been one of my favorite singers since he knocked me flat with “Feel the Fire” and “Reaching for the Sky” back in 1978, the year I entered the University of Michigan during the fall. Here in the DMV during his powerful performance, he naturally sang every song I wanted to hear and hit the notes, the modulations and the riffs, like he’s has for years. But when he sang for his encore, the Donny Hathaway classic, ‘A Song for You’ all I could do was sit there with tears in my eyes and think of people long gone who I still love and miss so much. Thanks Peabo for bringing joy to the lives of so many — and to mine. Thanks Brother Peabo!