My mother had a friend who passed on some time ago and that lady was one of the biggest Lou Rawls' fans in the world. She had a life-sized, cardboard cut out of him in the entryway of her home. I mean she was a ''ride and die'' fan. I wouldn't go as far as to sticking a cardboard cut out of Will Downing in my foyer, but the way my autographed poster of him followed me from apartment to apartment for years, signifies that he is my absolute favorite male singer of all times.
I was introduced to this wonder voice named Will Downing via Donnie Simpson on Video Soul in which he played the video for Will's rendition of Deniece Williams' classic song "Free." I was hooked right from the start. It wasn't long after, that I purchased that album and have been an avid collector of his work ever since. He not only captured my ears but he captured my heart with his sexy, baritone voice.
Imagine my surprise when his publicist emailed me stating, that he accepted my invitation for an interview with Word On The Street. How lucky can a girl get? Now I've met Will several times before. I've attended more of his shows than I can count. It's to the point that everybody who knows me, knows I am an admirer of his music. But this time, it was special because this time, I'm behind the velvet ropes, speaking one and one with him and able to share with you all the details and wonderfulness of this man and artist. (Plus, my birthday is on 10/31 and this is the ultimate present!)
Well, after playing phone tag we managed to catch up with one another and we talked about growth, change and his new project Soul Symphony. Due to be released on October 4th, Soul Symphony is comprised of 9 soulful songs that are reminiscent of the vibe Will capture on his 1991 project, A Dream Fulfilled.
My initial reaction when I got the CD in the mail is ''Dang, 9 songs? What's up with that?'' I wanted as much WD on one CD as possible but when I played all nine of those songs, I understood exactly why he did what he did. Anybody can take 15 or 20 so-so songs, burn them to a disc and call that an album but very few people have the ability to craft 9 super strong hits and create a project that flows from one song to the other with ease. Soul Symphony is all about quality.
Although I love them all, the one song that stood out to me the most is "Will Still Love's You." In it he sings:
"So here's a message to the ladies out there
To let you know that someone cares
About the things I know you're going through
I know it's rough but baby hang in there
Two kids, two jobs at home
Still feeling like you're all alone
Keep your head up is what you gotta do
And know that Will still loves you"
There's more but just with that little bit right there, he captured the true essence of exactly what most of us sista's are feeling just as he manages to do with all of his albums.
In keeping up with his tradition of remaking a classic song with his special spice, Will surprised us all by adding the song, "Superstar" (The Carpenters; Luther Vandross) to this project. With the timing of this project and the unfortunate timing of Luther Vandross' death, I asked Will if his choice to add that song was done so as a tribute to Luther. ''I'm a Luther fan. He was in a class by himself.'' He explained. ''But I didn't initially pick that song. I was asked to perform one of his songs live. Others were already singing all of the other songs and so I ended up doing "Superstar" and I enjoyed how it came out so I decided to add it. It was really kind of strange doing a Luther song. I hold him up on a pedestal. He is one of those classics that when he sings a song, it's been sung. That song and him are one.''
''Are you often compared to him?'' I asked. ''All of the time. I have even had people refer to me as a ''poor man’s Luther,'' which is sort of a backhand compliment. All I could react and say was ''Get @#%$ outta here!
"Somebody actually had the gall to say that you?" I asked. (That was that my Boomqueshia/Super Will fan side coming out.) "Yeah'' he replied. "Someone actually said those words to me. For them, it's easier that way because people tend to think that there can only be one."
As we stand in the present state we cannot help but to reflect back on where it all started. Will is originally from Brooklyn, NY and studied music and composition while in high school as well as in attendance at Brooklyn College and Virginia Union University. He has lent his vocals to an array of other singers and has worked with too many artists to name.
I asked Will if he felt his style had changed any since his first project. "Oh yes!'" he answered. "I've changed a lot. Your first time out of the gate, you are so excited and you just want to do everything. I mean, on that album I was all over the place but over the years, people have helped to direct me. I've learned what works for me. I've learned a lot."
Unlike a lot of other singers, Will has always had a close relationship with his fans. He is an avid participator on his message board and takes time out not only to read to subscriber's posts but also to answer and interact as much as his schedule and family obligations permits him to do. "Interacting with my fans is very important to me." He said. "That is a great way of finding out how people feel about what I'm doing. I wouldn't be able to have a hands on connection without actually being hands on."
The fans on his message board are committed and dedicated and were even nicknamed as the Wolf Packers! There are times when fans post messages on the board asking for autographs at one of the shows, and Will personally makes it possible. Once the show ends, he will allow them to either come backstage for photos and autographs or he'll come out.
While the fans are snapping pictures of him, he is snapping a couple of photographs of his own. Will has engaged in professional photography for quite some time now and also had an exhibition of his art last year. This Grammy© nominated phenomena took his talents to another level with his capturing of some of R&B and Jazz music greatest contributors in photographs. ''Photography is my outlet,'' he explained. And he is going to let it even more with the debut of a brand new, self-published book titled Unveiled due to be released next year. "With this book, I bring in young painters and other graphic artist from the Philadelphia ArtJaz gallery scene and showcase their work, as well. This is very exciting," he explained. "It's my first book."
Will is one of the few men that have been able to consistently put out fantastic songs and he has an incredible ability to evolve with the music and times. "I'm blessed to still be in," he testifies. In my opinion, I feel that we are the ones being blessed. Over the last couple of years, we have lost some of the greatest R&B male singers and although we have their music to listen to and the memories to look back on, we are truly privileged to have Will Downing and the few other singers of his caliber that have worked diligently to keep bringing us quality music time after time. Thank you Will for your time and another awesome CD.