For his latest project, singer Will Downing decided to pay homage to some of R&B's greats. Female chart-toppers from the mid-'70s to early '90s — Phyllis Hyman, Deniece Williams, Cherelle and Chaka Khan, to name a few — are Downing's contemporaries and his inspiration, and hail from an era in which soulful love songs ruled pop culture.
Downing's latest album, Black Pearls, is a tribute to the great women voices of the genre. Among his covers is "Everything I Miss At Home," by Cherelle. "When I first played it for my sister, the first thing she said was, 'That's the do-right song: I play that song at home when my husband ain't acting right,'" he says. "When she heard my version, she said, 'I never thought about it from a man's perspective.' So it puts all of these songs in a whole new light — if it's relationship-based."
In his 28 years in the jazz and R&B world, Downing has sold more than 4 million albums worldwide. Born in Brooklyn in 1963, Downing grew up surrounded by musical influences: the early days of hip hop, the classic sound of R&B, the beginnings of club and house music in Chicago. Before putting out songs under his real name, he released five or six singles under assumed names: Wally Jump Junior and the Criminal Element, RT and the Rockmen Unlimited, The Goon Squad.
"I did all those things before I found out what I wanted to do musically," Downing says. "And when I did find out, in 1988, I released my very first solo project" — this time, under his own name. His first song was a cover of "Free" by Deniece Williams, an artist he returns to on Black Pearls.
Hear the full interview with Downing at the audio link.