Editor's note: Local musician Timothy Cox sends this review of a recent Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson concert he attended in Peachtree City.
ATLANTA – Fittingly, the June 23 concert held at an outdoor amphitheater in suburban Atlanta featured two legendary performers during what’s officially called Black Music Month.
Rare performances by Roberta Flack and her longtime musical mate, Peabo Bryson, attracted about 2,500 patrons who were provided separate performances by the two living legends.
Bryson, a Greenville, S.C. native, opened the two-hour show by displaying his unique brand of vocalese that has garnered him Grammy Awards and other accolades throughout his successful 35-year career.
In a recent interview from his Atlanta home, Bryson reflected on his formative years in the Baptist churches of South Carolina’s Piedmont region.
During his Atlanta performance, he displayed the gospel-like grit that helped him become a household name and romantic crooner with hit songs like “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again” and the Disney hits which placed the soul crooner in a more classic category – “Aladdin (A Whole New World)” and “Beauty and the Beast” – his best-selling duets with singers Celine Dion and Regina Belle, respectively.
At midpoint of his show, Peabo announced that he would revisit the R&B side of his career. To a rousing ovation, his rhythm section segued to a familiar intro into “I’m So Into You.”
Bryson’s smokin six-piece band was led by his longtime bassist and Musical Director, Dwight Watkins, also of Atlanta.
Notably, Bryson’s vocal clarity and range remains intact, while nattily dressed in an off-white smoking jacket, the classic crooner worked hard enough to evoke perspiration enough to remove the jacket to the delight of his many lady fans.
During the interview, Bryson noted that remaining physically-fit remains priority.
After a too-lengthy changeover in backline band equipment, it was finally showtime for the lady legend on the bill.
This show evoked memories of the 1981 “Live and More” LP that featured Roberta with then-label mate, Bryson, when both recorded on Capitol Records.
Flack noted that on that particular tour she specifically sought-out Peabo as her recording mate, considering that less than two years earlier – her good friend, Donny Hathaway, had died.
“I’ve always been very particular about the male singers that I work with. Luther (Vandross) was one of my background singers,” she said during a pre-concert interview from her home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.
I really hoped that Peabo would accept – I knew he was the one fellow who could perform the songs Live – I’m talking about all those songs that Donny and I had recorded in the studio,” she said.
Conversely, Bryson said he was pleasantly surprised that Flack chose him to do the live tour.
“I remember thinking. ‘she wants me to sing with her’? I was so honored,” he said.
Bryson also acknowledged performing at the AmVets nightclub in Augusta, Ga., while working as a young, lead singer for the Moses Dillard Textown Display Band.
“I cut my teeth in Augusta. People there know their music,” he added.
During the first portion of Flack’s recent show, she kicked-it-off with a smooth-but-funky version of her classic, “Feel Like Making Love.”
Flack is forever known for her intricately sweet background vocal arrangements.
She failed to disappoint on this humid evening -- especially on a less-familiar mid-‘70s hit called “Feelin’ That Glow” and her rendition of the Marvin Gaye’s “Inner-City Blues,” “You Sure Love To Ball” and “Mercy, Mercy Me (Save The Children)” offered a unique, flashback vibe for the largely mature audience.
Flack’s background vocalist Derek Hughes of Oakland, California, shined throughout the evening, displaying a multi-octave range reminiscent of jazz-fusion vocalist Phil Perry.
Another crowd-pleaser occurred when Bryson joined Flack onstage during a welcomed rendition of their duo hit “Tonight I Celebrate My Love” and “Back Together Again,” the Hathaway/Flack classic.
Both singers reminded us that they are musicians. Roberta, the classically-trained academician of Howard University, was comfortable at her baby grand piano, while Bryson surprised some while performing the Sade classic, “King of Sorrow,” as he accompanied himself on an acoustic guitar.
Remarkably, both singers’vocal chops remain largely unchanged from their younger days – very similar to what occurred with vocal nuances of the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, whose girlish soprano stayed unblemished.
Flack also performed two singles from her just-released CD, ‘Let It Be Roberta’ which covers hits from The Beatles.
Her rendition of “Hey Jude” was also mimicked by concertgoers throughout The Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater in suburban Peachtree City, about 20 minutes south of downtown Atlanta.
While Bryson noted that this show is not part of a dedicated tour, he did say that audience reaction and ticket sales for the performance were being gauged to determine whether it justifies escalation to a national tour.
Meanwhile, it’s hoped the tour will at least visit select American cities in order to provide real-music lovers a unique opportunity to witness these two living legends – Back Together Again.
ALL ABOUT BLACK MUSIC MONTH: On June 7, 1979, President Jimmy Carter designated the month of June as Black Music Month in order to pay homage to the lasting impact of Black Musicians upon American music and pop culture. In 2008, President Barack Obama changed the name to African-American Music Appreciation Month. Philadelphia producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff were originators of the annual music-based acknowledgement.