There have been many times that I discuss a particular musical artist with either family or friends. Of course, most of the time the conversation centers around a particular song or album of songs. However, many of those conversations are about the topic of career longevity. I’ve written before that the music business can be one of the most difficult to enter, and more difficult to experience sustained success.
As this week approached, once again much was discussed about some of the fine musicians who have enjoyed success for many years. The reason longtime success was in the forefront of many of my discussions with others was because the great singer/songwriter Will Downing was coming to South Florida for a performance. My wife and I planned to attend, but family illness made it impossible to go to the concert. Nevertheless, this week I would move ahead and feature one of the finest musicians of our time.
Will Downing has been in the music business for a number of years, and I have been familiar with his work for easily more than twenty years. Even though I consider myself a fan of his work, it is my wife who really admires Downing’s music. If I remember correctly, it was my wife who introduced me to his music. Not unusual, my wife has introduced several musical artists to me. Definitely more than I have introduced to her. My musical tastes are broad and inclusive of various genres, while Will Downing music fits perfectly in her small but impressive library. If any of you reading this week are not familiar with Will Downing’s music, you have missed something special. However, you can easily catch up, as Downing’s music is still available for listening. Oh yes, and he is still recording new music!
Will Downing was born November 29, 1963 in Brooklyn, NY. Downing enrolled in Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York. Alumni of the school include record label executives Clive Davis ( who founded Arista Records) and Kedar Massenburg (who later became president of Motown), as well as Academy Award actress and Grammy Award winning singer Barbra Streisand. Downing attended college at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. In the mid-1980s, he moved back to New York City, and worked on albums by Jennifer Holiday, Kool & the Gang, Gerald Albright, Billy Ocean, Regina Belle and Mica Paris. Later he sang with Arthur Baker’s group, Wally ‘Jump’ Junior. Downing then used Baker as a producer after he signed with Island Records. In 1988, Downing signed a recording contract with 4th & Broadway Records, and his first solo album, Will Downing, was released that same year. Downing’s big breakout album, A Dream Fulfilled, in 1991 perfectly showcased his distinctive baritone vocals and began to unveil his gift as a song interpreter with an array of diverse tracks such as War’s “The World Is A Ghetto”, Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” and a stunning version of Angela Bofill’s “I Try”. It was at this point that my wife introduced me to Downing’s music, and I realized that he is a very good musician.
What is it that helped Will Downing to have such a long career in music? Twenty-seven years and counting! Perhaps it is all about the talent? Possible, but we have all seen talented musicians without much success. Once I got the chance to read Will Downing’s bio the answers became apparent. The question at the very top was this, “How does an artist or his work withstand the test of time?” The answer can be found in a quote by designer Giorgio Armani: “I love things that age well – things that don’t date, that stand the test of time and that become living examples of the absolute best” As I read that quote it helped me understand the main ingredient for long time success. The music must be timeless! The music of Will Downing has aged well, doesn’t date, has stood the test of time and over the course of a 27 year career he has unquestionably become a living example of the absolute best that smooth R&B and Soul has to offer.
Downing’s vocal abilities and overall sound are both unmatched in the music world. I will never forget the first time I heard his music. Such a warm, rich sound and his voice complements all of his music perfectly. I came to understand that Downing was influenced greatly by his friend, the late Luther Vandross, I could understand this point because musically there were similarities between the two artists, even though Downing developed his original style. Vandross and Downing were what I call, “songsmiths”: both worked hard to create an overall distinct sound by way of the recording. Downing also shared Luther’s sensibilities and flare for singing to women on a truly emotional and romantic level.
Throughout the 90’s and early 00’s, Downing recorded frequently on multiple record labels and became a fixture at the top of the contemporary jazz charts, courtesy of a number of solid releases. Quite possibly the crown jewel of this era was a jazz infused album of duets with saxophonist Gerald Albright, Pleasures of the Night, while his lone album on Motown All the Man You Need garnered a 2001 Grammy Nomination for Best Traditional R&B Album.
Will Downing has persevered through the good times and the not so good times. In early 2007, he contracted the rare muscular disease Polymyositis, which sidelined him for most of the year. It was a devastating and debilitating condition which landed Downing in a wheelchair and caused him to lose nearly 100 pounds. Despite the setback, Will was determined to complete his debut album for Peak Records, After Tonight, for which he had already recorded four songs prior to his illness. Incredibly, during the Spring of 2007, he worked from his home, putting down vocals despite severe weakness and fatigue. I remember this dark period quite well as my wife and I wondered if Downing would ever recover. We both were very happy that he overcame this illness and still makes music today,
I spent the better part of the past few weeks listening to Downing’s most recent album released March 31, 2015, Chocolate Drops. If you liked Will Downing’s previous works then this album will fit seamlessly into your music collections. Chocolate Drops possesses that signature Will Downing sound that immediately makes his music timeless. The album’s interpretations are absolutely fearless to say the least. Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You” and Bobby Taylor and The Vancouver’s “Does Your Momma Know About Me”, pure and simply crafted by Downing and carefully placed to make Chocolate Drops a must-have recording.
I’m sorry I missed the performance by Downing. Not only for myself but I know my wife would have loved hearing a live Will Downing performance. Life deals us all unexpected curves, but we fight through and continue to live much like Will Downing. Somehow, I believe we will get another opportunity. Why? I’m convinced Will Downing’s music will remain relevant and timeless. He’ll most likely continue to create even more music. Regardless, Will Downing music will still have his trademark sound.