The party is on in KC on July 14! Get in on a full evening of soulful music and fun with MAZE feat. Frankie Beverly, Stokley, Sir Charles Jones and KC’s own Lo-Key?

MAZE featuring FRANKIE BEVERLY

For decades, and across generations, the music of Frankie Beverly and Maze has livened up family gatherings and Black events. The band has a long, rich history of closing out shows to swaying crowds of fans, and Maze will be at it again as the closing act of the KC Summer Soul Fest.

Group’s History

Like many Black artists, Frankie got his inspiration of song from going to church, but he got his stage name from Frankie Lymon, the lead singer of the popular ’50s group the Teenagers. Growing up, Frankie, whose birth name is Howard Beverly, used to sing Lymon’s songs on the street corners of Philadelphia. That singing led Philadelphia fans to call him “Little Frankie,” and the name stuck.

Even though Philly was a hotspot for ’70s soul music, with the writing duo of Gamble and Huff penning hit after hit, young Frankie and his then band Raw Soul didn’t find much love in his hometown. So, Frankie packed up the group and moved to San Francisco where they immediately developed a strong and diverse fan base.

Among their fans was Jan Gaye, wife of Marvin Gaye, who introduced the band to her husband. It was Marvin who helped open the door for Frankie by booking Raw Soul to tour with him as his opening act during the summer of 1976.

That summer, the group was signed as one of the earlier groups in Capitol Records’ fledgling Black music department. In order to ink the deal, Larkin Arnold, who was charged with developing the label’s Black brand, offered young Frankie an offer he couldn’t refuse – the opportunity to retain the publishing rights to all his songs.

When the band released its first album, the self-named disc revealed the group’s new moniker, “Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.” “While I’m Alone,” was released as the single from the album, but the seven-song set was ultimately full of hits, including: “Time Is on My Side,” “Happy Feelin’s,” “Lady of Magic,” “You,” and “Look at California.”

By the late ’70s, disco was on the rise, and the group was faced with the tough decision to adapt or change their sound to fit the disco wave. True to their roots, Maze and Frankie kept their sound pure. Refusing to succumb to industry pressure to dilute their sound for broader appeal.

With that pure “California Soul” sound, Maze went on to release 10 recordings for Capitol, including six studio albums, two live albums and two greatest-hits collections. Seven of those recordings are gold, including 1978’s “Golden Time of Day,” 1979’s “Inspiration, 1980’s “Joy and Pain” and “Live in New Orleans,” 1983’s “We Are One,” and 1985’s “Can’t Stop The Love.” 

The band also racked up impressive sales when it defected to Warner Bros. Records in the late ’80s, scoring two more gold certifications for 1989’s “Silky Soul” and 1993’s “Back to Basics.”

Maze Now

More than four decades after their 1977 recording debut, Frankie Beverly and Maze are still selling out venues across the world. Frankie, still as smooth as ever, takes the stage in his signature all white, and, of course, the white cap, and grown folks still go wild.

For many Maze fans, a Maze concert is almost a spiritual experience. One such fan is author and former talk show host Tavis Smiley.

“Everyone is there for a Maze and Frankie Beverly concert, and everyone is joyful. People are on their feet, swaying and singing. It was the kind of spiritual experience I’d never had outside of a church. You could feel the spirit,” said Smiley for an article published by theundefeated.com. “I’ve never done drugs in my life, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be high. But on that night, I felt one of the highest highs I have ever felt.”

Frankie Beverly’s impending demise has been rumored for decades. While the singer admitted to having some throat troubles as early as 2000, rumors about him suffering from throat cancer are absolutely false, and his publicist is quick to correct anyone who spreads that misinformation. Frankie is healthy, especially healthy for a 73-year-old who tours constantly. This year, the band’s calendar includes 43 performances around the world.

The Maze lineup has changed consistently over the years. However, still hanging in there with the old guy is percussionist Roame Lowry, the only remaining founding member of the band.

Frankie, who still resides in San Francisco, rarely agrees to do interviews, so we’re not surprised our request for an interview was turned down. However, those who know him say he’s a grounded individual who hasn’t let fame go to his head.

As much of an institution as Maze is in the African-American community, it’s surprising the band has never earned a Grammy or an American Music Award, nor have they been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But those who know Frankie say the singer, who hasn’t let fame go to his head, isn’t likely disturbed by the lack of recognition.

“He’s very intelligent, very easy to talk to … not a harsh personality,” said David Nathan, co-founder of SoulMusic.com and a longtime acquaintance of Beverly’s.

That “easy” personality seems reasonable, coming from a songwriter who penned songs about happy feelings, sweet Southern girls, how joy and pain are two sides of the same coin, and how we are one – Frankie’s reported favorite.

The meaning of “We Are One” requires no explanation, but he offers this: “It’s true. If you are lucky enough to travel around the world, you’ll find we’re all the same and want the same thing: love! People for the most part are good. If not, we would have torn the world apart by now. I’ve learned to not be racist in my life. Our White brothers are our brothers, too, and I’m not trying to be some kind of love guru or anything. We are the same.”

– Natania Watie, The Community Voice

STOKLEY

With a solid debut solo album on a major label and a new album to be released soon, Stokley is a mature artist coming into his own after years of hard work with Mint Condition and backing up the likes of Prince and Janet Jackson.

Stokley’s album, “Introducing Stokley,” has spawned two Top 10 single hits. The first single “Level,” with a perfect stepper’s beat, peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Song Chart. He followed that up closely with the release of “Organic,” which reached the Top 10 on the same chart.

His solo success seems to support the change of direction he’s taken in his career.

“The essence of life is change,” he told Carla Eckels, with Wichita’s KMUW radio station, “but a lot of times it’s actually hard for people to do or accept.”

Stokley cherishes the memories of talking with fellow Twin Cities native Prince about making the leap to solo artist.

“He championed what I’m doing right now, with the solo thing,” Stokley said. “He was adamant about me doing it. I feel that his presence is definitely on [“Introducing Stokley” (Concord)]. I wouldn’t sound like I do without him.”

His hit “Level” has been turning heads, and would make Prince proud.

“Every time everybody heard it they couldn’t just play it once or twice, they would play it three or four times, so it was pretty obvious that was what the single should be,” he said. “The song is simply about this journey in life, finding somebody that sees the world the same way as you do.”

Emerging from the unique musical incubator that was ’70s and ’80s Minneapolis/St. Paul, Stokley Williams started playing percussion instruments as a child and continued at St. Paul Central High School, the magnet school where he and the other members of Mint Condition came together.

“We had unique classes like steel drum class, and we had a recording studio in the school,” he recalled. “Now, they’ve started losing it in schools. People don’t know what a guitar is. You can’t be it if you don’t see it, if you’re not around it.”

Stokley and his crew threw themselves into the local scene during the ’80s, and it paid off. They were spotted by the R&B record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who went from sidemen with Prince to crafting hits for Janet Jackson. Along with helping Mint Condition score a record deal, the producers put Stokley to work behind other artists like Jackson and Color Me Badd.

“I’m a drummer first. I’ve been doing that longer than anything. I have to play. I’m itching right now,” he said. “In Minneapolis, I guess I was the residential session drummer. Everything they did, pretty much, they needed live drums, percussion, background vocals. I was the utility guy. They included me, and I really feel good about that.”

Those early years have served to direct Stokley’s musical compass to this day, and he’s finding inspiration everywhere.

“You have to have all your portals open,” he said. “It might come from the birds, you might be reading something, having a conversation, it might be a certain melody you can put the words to later.”

Things have come full circle, he says. “So many amazing things have happened these last few years. I’m opening my wings and saying yes.”

One thing that is truly full circle is his drum gig touring with Prince’s former band, The Revolution, for tribute shows to his mentor. “Amazing, this is the group you see in Purple Rain,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey with them because these are my heroes I’ve loved watching.”

Stokley was playing with The Revolution when they appeared in 2018 at the Wichita Riverfest.

Some fans say that if Mint Condition reunited, they could get in a Maze career vibe, enjoying a solid tour schedule with their dedicated base. Mint’s not quite ready for that.

“I know we’re in different spots doing different things artistically, but 

I’m hoping we can get together at some point and do another [album] for us and for fans,” he said. “It’s amazing everything we’ve created together. I’m so blessed to know them and have them as brothers.

Stokley’s advice to aspiring and seasoned artists is simple: “Learn your craft, learn the business, and stay abreast of technology,” he says. “Those three things, if you stay on it, you can’t lose.”

Look for Stokley’s new album, “Sankofa,” out soon, along with the new single, “She.” Connect with him at istokley.com and on Twitter @StokleyOfficial.

– Glen Sharp, The Community Voice / Thanks to Carla Eckels, director of Cultural Diversity, News and Engagement and host of Soulsations on KMUW Radio, Wichita, for her interview of Stokley for this article. Her complete interview can be heard online @ www.kmuw.org.

SIR CHARLES JONES

Sir Charles Jones, a leading man in Blues and Soul, is in his 19th year of creating and performing the music the masses of Southern Soul fans enjoy.

Although he was born “up North” in Akron, OH, Sir Charles was raised in Alabama. He received early support from Southern Soul standout Marvin Sease and began his recording career in 2000 with a self-titled album.

Jones taught himself to write, play and produce his own music, and has worked hard to keep his Southern Soul flair pure.

Sir Charles first recorded a studio album back in 2000 and his self-titled project made it to Billboard’s Top 100 Albums in R&B and Hip Hop, peaking at 84 on the charts. He has since released five more albums, and three of those have followed suit on the charts.

His biggest album, “Love Machine,” spent 57 weeks on the charts, and peaked at 28 in 2002. A year following its success, Charles was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him in a coma for several days.

Following the accident, Sir Charles did not yield to defeat. Instead, he continued working hard to keep his Blues presence known. He went on to release “Thank You for Holding On” in 2006.

Living Blues credited Sir Charles’ ballad “Is There Anybody Lonely?” for single-handedly growing contemporary interest in Southern Soul/Blues music. His song “Friday” is another party starter at juke joints far and wide.

He released his latest album, “The Masterpiece,” in 2019 on his own label, Southern King Entertainment. So far, songs “Drowning in My Own Tears” and “My Everything” are proving to be streaming favorites.

LO-KEY?

Fans of 1990s soul music definitely remember the sweet sounds of Lo-Key?, a group that shot to the top of the charts with the No. 1 smash “I Got A Thang For Ya.” After scoring hits with “Sweet On You,” “Hey There, Pretty Lady,” and more, the guys called it quits in 1995, and each went on to other musical interests.

Last year, after too many years apart, the group reunited and to the luck of Summer Soul Fest attendees, they’re out on tour.

The group was originally founded by Lance Alexander and Tony “Prof T” Tolbert. Both Lance and Prof T were from Kansas City, where they were members of a band called Grand Jury. During a seminar that was attended by Jimmy “Jam” Harris, the duo was able to get their demo to the producer, which led to a songwriting deal for Jam’s Flyte Tyme Productions in Minneapolis.

It was in Minnesota that Lo-Key? was formed and signed to Jam & Lewis’ record label, Perspective Records, and released their debut album, “Where Dey At?,” on October 6, 1992. In addition to Alexander and Prof T, original members of the group were Andre “Dre” Shepard (lead vocals), Darron “D” Story (vocals/trumpet), Tyrone “T-Bone” Yarbrough (vocals/bass guitar).

“Our fans have been the driving force and motivation for our return,” said D in a January 2018 interview for soultracks.com.

“We see all the posts and comments online asking ‘where dey at?’ and ‘we miss you’ or ‘bring back some real music.’ After you read that so many times, you can’t help but be motivated and, in my opinion, we have unfinished business. It’s truly like the perfect storm. There is no question it’s time for our return.”

In the same interview, group member Prof T spoke to the a growing support for ’90s R&B. “The resurgence of ’90s R&B artists is, in large part, due to our generation’s nostalgia for the ‘feeling’ the music of that era gave them. It also reminds us of the simplicity-of-life/fun we had. But you also have to give the millennials a lot of credit. We’ve really piqued their interest as well as respect for ’90s music, so the timing is perfect for a group like Lo-Key?.”

BISHOP BULLWINKLE – R.I.P. (1948-2019)

Bishop Bullwinkle, originally scheduled to appear at KC Summer Soul Fest, passed away of a heart attack on Father’s Day 2019, at age 70.

A longtime comedian and singer, Bullwinkle became a viral internet star with his 2016 release “Hell to Da Naw, Naw, Naw With Da Bicycle.” The music video has scored more than 38 million views since its debut.

A soulful takedown of the hypocrisy of some preachers and parishioners, the video was shot in a backyard with Bullwinkle – stylishly dressed in a white suit, sunglasses and cowboy hat – walking from his bicycle to a podium and doing some old-school rapping.

A Florida resident, Bullwinkle, real name Bernard Thomas, toured Southern clubs for decades with his “preacher persona,” and The Chicago Reader compared him to Rudy Ray Moore. After his Youtube success, he gained more exposure at music festivals.

“Growing up in our household, it was always music,” daughter Nikkia Wright told local news. “He might come in and talk a little junk. He might hear a little beat, he might start rapping. He teaches us how to read, he was rapping and reading. Like he was that music … when I think of him, I think music and comedy.”

As for the bicycle in his video, that was a nod to the bicycles he liked to repair and build for kids in his neighborhood. It was just part of how he gave back to his community.

“Mother’s Day, he went out, and he cleaned out all the graves out there in [the] graveyard,” friend John Phillips said. “He was a person that when kids didn’t have a bicycle, he built bicycles. You see all the bicycle parts and all of that stuff he’s done.

“He’s not gone,” Phillips continued. “He’s still here, and everybody out there, play ‘Hell to the Naw Naw.’ You remember that Bishop is a blessing, and he’ll always be a blessing.”

Map to Grandview Amphitheater – 13501 Byars Rd., Grandview, MO