BrassyBrown.com’s 2015 Essence Fest coverage continues. DJ Soul Sister is our special music contributor this month. Here’s her five reasons why Frankie Beverly and Maze are so beloved in New Orleans.
1) New Orleans has been a fan since Day 1
A former executive at Capitol Records once told me that Frankie Beverly was so popular in New Orleans that he could run for mayor of the city and win. The Crescent City has had a love affair with the “Silky Soul” singer and his band ever since the group’s self-titled debut album was released on Capitol in 1977. As Beverly has announced in concert from time to time, when that album went gold, he was astounded to learn that the majority of the copies were sold to fans in the New Orleans area. During the mid-1970s, Frankie Beverly and Maze considered New Orleans to be a home base, due to the number of times they frequented the area playing small local venues and events. One of those included Southern University at New Orleans, where the band played several free concerts. “That’s where I first heard them,” said Maze fan Debra Cooper. “When they hit it big, they never forgot the people of New Orleans and we never forgot them.” Frankie Beverly may have been born in Philadelphia. The band may have taken shape in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Marvin Gaye would mentor them and convince them to change their name from Raw Soul to Maze. But New Orleans is where they received their first loyal, large fan base, which continues to this day.
2) Live in New Orleans 1981 album
If Maze’s 1977 debut album put them on the map with New Orleans audiences, then it’s their 1981 live album that sealed the deal for the world to see. Recorded at the legendary Saenger Theatre on Canal St. on November 14-15 in 1980, and released as a two-record set in 1981, Live in New Orleans documented the band at an amazing peak, having released its Gold-selling Joy and Pain LP just a year earlier. And what better place to do it than in the city filled with the band’s most enthusiastic fans. Not only an amazing live album spread over three sides, but the fourth side included new songs recorded in the studio, one of which is still considered the ultimate Maze and Frankie hit – “Before I Let Go.” And New Orleanians will never get enough of the album art with the classic Saeger marquee emblazoned across the front cover, and the inside cover including performance photos and some candids too, like the one of the band enjoying a ride on a French Quarter horse carriage.
3) Brass bands love to play their songs
I don’t care if you’re listening to ReBirth Brass Band, the Hot 8 Brass Band, or the Stooges or the TBC Brass Bands in the clubs, or the number of up-and-coming young brass bands parading at Sunday second lines, ten times out of ten, there’s going to be a song by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly in their repertoire. Some of my favorites include the Hot 8’s version of “We Are One” and ReBirth’s versions of “Running Away” and “Before I Let Go.”
4) Frankie Beverly is Mardi Gras royalty
The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club can boast that its Mardi Gras parade featured the first-ever celebrity king when Louis Armstrong paraded with the krewe as King Zulu 1949. In 2000, Frankie Beverly and Maze also rode with the krewe as guest grand marshals in 2000. They threw beads, cups, and coconuts, and partied with us on Mardi Gras day. Therefore, they are one of us.
5) Maze = tradition
Frankie Beverly told writer Keith Spera in a 2006 article for the Times-Picayune that New Orleans embraced the band “like we were born and raised here. It was like a disease here. We didn’t get played in New York until the fourth or fifth album. New Orleans was the first one.” Combined with the city’s love for the band’s mellow soulful sounds is a unique loyalty to the band’s consistency. There is probably not a year since the band started performing in New Orleans that the city hasn’t seen a Maze concert. Seeing Maze and Frankie in New Orleans is a tradition that isn’t meant to be broken. And though Maze featuring Frankie Beverly have performed plentifully in New Orleans in recent years, their return to the 2015 Essence Festival is sure to be special. Like their music, it will be a family affair.
Known worldwide as the “queen of rare groove,” DJ Soul Sister has hosted her “Soul Power” show on WWOZ FM and “right on party situations” for nearly two decades in New Orleans. Check her facebook page for her latest gigs around the city.
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