QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: Will Downing
‘Music is always evolving, always changing’
Soul singer Will Downing brought the house down with a masterful set at the recent Las Vegas Jazz Festival, giving local audiences a performance that will not soon be forgotten. With his newest release, “Chocolate Drops,” now in stores, Downing spoke to Las Vegas Black Image about his nearly three decades as a recording artist and the ever shifting nature of the music business.
What are some of your new musical projects?
I recently released “Chocolate Drops,” my eighteenth album in 28 years. I have been touring a lot — and I am actually working on my next album as we speak.
Do you think R&B music is on a comeback?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t have an opinion — because music is always evolving, always changing. It always comes back around. What’s old is new, and what’s new is new (laughs). There is always something out there that is refreshing to hear — or maybe not-so-refreshing. That is how music has always been. I think R&B is making a slight resurgence, but I thought it was going to disappear for a hot second. I was really nervous. But traditional R&B, as you know it, is still in existence and still great. There are still some great singers out there waving the flag for traditional R&B.
What is the secret to your authentic sound?
My thing has always been to try to be consistent. When you hear one of my songs, you can put on one of my older songs from 1988 and they will mesh together. I strive for consistency, and this is something I have always tried to maintain. I sing about subjects that people can relate to. I sing love songs — the good and not-so-good about love. I always attribute my hit records to consistency, and the listeners know what they will get from my songs.
How do you feel about singing conscious music that speaks to social issues — like Marvin Gaye did with “What’s Going On”?
Yes, of course I see myself singing conscious music. Absolutely, I think when you are in a position as a recording artist, and an artist in general, you have the ear of so many people — and it would be a waste to say nothing with that opportunity. You can speak about the times. And the things that artists speak about can change the world. I want to dip my toe in that pool of music and sing something that might affect someone. Regardless of what it is. Whether it’s social change or relationships, my goal is to make people think. I want to inspire and allow people to feel emotions. Music can save lives with impactful lyrics. It’s important, as an artist, to say something important.
How did you enjoy performing at the Las Vegas Jazz Festival?
I loved performing in Vegas, and I sang the best of my songs that everyone knows best — all the songs my fans wanted to hear, I sang. I also performed new music, so the audience heard all the best I have to offer.
Who would you like to collaborate with, musically?
There are a bunch of folks. But that Jazmine Sullivan — she is just a singing somebody. I haven’t seen her perform yet, but
I love her voice. I would love to sing something with her. Oddly enough, my wife and I were talking about Lalah Hathaway. I would like to do a duet with Lalah. Also, I love Anita Baker — and however you feel about her, I would love to hear our voices together.
Did you take a hiatus from music for a bit?
Yeah, I think God arranged that for me. God made me sit down for a minute. I took about a year-and-a-half off, because I got ill — really ill. I think it was God telling me to slow down a little bit, and to enjoy more of life other than working and music.
Following your own health crisis, what would you say to black people about taking care of their health?
I think women are more in tune with their health than men. I always try to encourage men, “Come on brothers, get to the doctor for your check-up.” The thing that happened to me probably would have been lessened had I gone to the doctor earlier when I started to feel what I was feeling. I waited until it was unbearable and I couldn’t walk. My doctor asked me why I didn’t come to him sooner, and I told him it was because I was afraid. I tell people who have these same fearful emotions that, “It’s going to be what it’s going to be.” But you will probably help yourself if you go to the doctor — so get yourself checked out.
“As an artist in general, you have the ear of so many people — and it would be a waste to say nothing with that opportunity.”