Written by | Ray Cornelius
On Sunday, July 20, 1997 I attended my very first Maxwell concert at Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theatre and I’ve been a fan ever since. I was just five days away from turning 22-years-old and was approaching the end of an amazing summer internship at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While I wasn’t that familiar with him or his music, I did find myself humming the lyrics to his song, “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” and his airy falsetto singing style reminded me of another male artist whose high pitched voice I also enjoyed—Prince.
I was also diggin’ his oversized afro of curls and sleek retro garb that was reminiscent of music rebels Lenny Kravitz and Terence Trent d’Arby. See, I too had been experimenting with vintage wear and was still trying to get comfortable in my polyester, butterfly-collared shirts and hip hugging, wide leg pants. But it was something about Maxwell’s confidence in his throwback attire that made me (over time) feel the same in mine. Needless to say, he was my fashion muse for the moment just as the Brand New Heavies’ Andrew Levy had been for me in college and pop singer George Michael during my high school years.
I remember going to Maxwell’s concert and being totally mesmerized by his entrance. The stage was filled with smoke, lights were flashing everywhere and his band and background singers were having a competition on who could out harmonize the other. And then you heard Maxwell’s voice blend right in just like a well trained soloist with the church choir. But he was no where in sight. The anticipation was building, hearts were pounding and the audience was cheering like fans at a football pep rally. Then all of a sudden you see his silhouette in the midst of the smoke and disco lights and he emerges from the shadows of the stage, moving in slow motion sort of like the characters in a Spike Lee movie. The audience went berserk as his even bigger and darker curly hair became more visible in the light. He wore this crisp white suit that fit his 5’10” frame to perfection along with a mustard colored shirt and tie that complimented his caramel skin tones. His soft voice exploded into the bars of his first song and the rest is history. As you can tell, it was a moment that has become a permanent part of my mental rolodex and one of my most memorable concert experiences. You would have thought that they had resurrected Marvin Gaye from the dead the way the women (and some men) were carrying on in the audience. From that point on, I knew that Maxwell was a star and would be entertaining us for many years to come.
That was almost 20 years ago and Maxwell still has that same affect on his audience. I had the pleasure recently of attending an intimate conversation between him and radio personality Big Tigger on this past Monday evening and not much has changed. The event took place at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta and was packed with a mostly female audience who had won tickets through an exclusive radio promotion with V-103.
The conversation began with Maxwell explaining why he’s been on a seven year hiatus from music. If you recall, he was in the middle of a national tour with Jill Scott in 2010, when the remainder of the tour dates were abruptly canceled. Well now the singer is claiming that he’s used that time off and explored life, read a few books, traveled back and forth to the Dominican Republic and Haiti and wrote the second installment to his trilogy album, BlackSUMMERS’Night.
“This whole album has been cooking in me since 2003, 2004. I have other albums I’ve been working on as well but I wanted to do this trilogy and talk about this particular character, and a look at relationships and breakups. This record is really about me taking responsibility for the ‘Pretty Wings’ issues and the ‘Fist Full of Tears’ issues. There are also a lot of part two’s that you don’t know about like ‘Pretty Wings’ is part two of ‘Lost’ and ‘Fingers Cross’ is part two of ‘Fists Full of Tears.’ So all of it ties together,” said Maxwell to the audience.
He also explained that he has a better understanding of who he is as an artist and the power of his musical influence. “At 43 I really see the responsibility that I have as a musician now and as a public figure, to sort of help the world and Black Lives Matter and so many other issues. It’s so important to beautify people with peace and love and to change what’s happening in the world a little bit at a time.”
In addition to the conversation, Maxwell and Big Tigger took the audience through a few of the songs on the album and explained their meaning even though he prefers fans to interpret the music for themselves. He also took a few questions from the audience where he talked about his first album, Urban Hang Suite (which is celebrating its 20th anniversary) and his classic version of the Kate Bush song, “This Woman’s Work.”
“Because of what women have been to me in my life—my grandmother, my mother and all of you here right now—I felt like it was the perfect song. Now the song is written by a woman and from a woman’s perspective and that’s what was interesting to me too. I was like, ‘WOW! I can be a guy and sing something that a woman wrote and from a woman’s perspective with regards to child birth and all this stuff that I’m not supposed to understand as a man.’ I also thought the irony of it was so damn perfect. The challenge for me though was hitting them damn notes. She was singing regular for her but I had to come in with a whole different perspective. The greatest thing about doing that song was that it was performed live and it ended up being in the movie, ‘Love and Basketball.’ It never dies. I literally did it in ’98 and then it came back to life in 2001. It’s a song that I always work around every show.”
Maxwell is currently on tour promoting BlackSUMMERS’Night. He is also taking his show to Europe in October with the one and only Mary J. Blige.
Check out more photos from the event below:
Maxwell with Big Tigger
Maxwell‘s current single is “Lake By the Ocean”
Maxwell and Big Tigger
Maxwell with V-103’s Frank Ski and Big Tigger
Maxwell with V-103’s Ramona DeBreaux
Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com