Maxwell (1973- ) is an American singer of neo soul, the sort of R&B that Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Jill Scott sing.
His top ten hits on the American R&B charts:
- 1996: Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder) (#8)
- 1999: Fortunate (#1)
- 2001: Lifetime (#5)
- 2009: Pretty Wings (#1)
- 2009: Bad Habits (#4)
He does seem to have an effect on women. Jeannine Amber of Essence magazine went to one of his shows in 1997:
One woman jumps up and waves her arms over her head. Maxwell smiles, touches his fist to his heart, his fingers to his lips. The woman hits her friend on the arm over and over. “Did you see, did you see?” she cries and collapses back into her seat. A whole theater full of women and this young man – this suit-wearing, crazy-haired, looking-like-he-walked-out-of-1974 young thing … the first one since Teddy Pendergrass to ship women into such a frenzy.
His appeal is not merely physical. He told Rolling Stone:
It bothers me how women are treated in pop songs. I’m doing my best to pay some long-overdue respect to African-American women.
His music in both style and content was so out of place in the 1995 R&B scene that Columbia Records did not put out his album at first. Not till the success of D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” (1995) did it know that it could sell. And it did: his first album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite”, sold 2 million copies.
Maxwell is half Puerto Rican and half Haitian. He grew up in East New York, a rough part of Brooklyn in New York City. When he was three his father died in a plane crash. His mother gave him a religious upbringing. Fearing for his safety, she kept him indoors much of the time. So he turned to reading, studying the Bible and music.
He grew up on the Jheri curl soul of the 1980s, stuff like Patrice Rushen, the S.O.S Band, Rose Royce and Loose Ends.
He sang at church but did not become serious about music till a friend gave him an old Casio keyboard. He learned to play it and several other instruments. Later he was singing at clubs at night while working as a waiter by day.
A friend of a friend knew someone at a record company. One thing led to another and in 1994 he landed a record deal with Columbia. He liked Columbia because they did not try to force him to be someone else. They even let him write and produce his own music.
His first three albums each sold over a million copies. Then he took a six-year break. He was sick of the music business and he loved being a nobody again. But now he is back with an album trilogy, “Black Summer’s Night”. Part one came out in 2009, part two is due out in 2011 and part three will follow a year or so later.