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On His New Album, Will Downing Pays Tribute To Mothers Of Soul

Will Downing's latest album is <em>Black Pearls</em>.
Will Downing's latest album is <em>Black Pearls</em>.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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