For more than 20 years, people have put aside the stresses of life to enjoy relaxation or romance with the music of Will Downing.
Now, just in time for the holidays, Downing’s fans have a special opportunity to feel the warmth of his songs in person.
The singer, songwriter and producer will make an appearance in Indianapolis on Dec. 12 at Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University.
Also featured during the concert will be contemporary “smooth jazz” saxophonist Najee, best known for his Grammy award nominated album “Najee’s Theme,” as well as his work with artists such as Chaka Khan, Patti La Belle and Prince.
Downing developed a loyal following at a time when male singers such as Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, Alexander O’Neal and Jeffrey Osborne used lush, romantic ballads and unique vocal stylings to top the R&B charts.
His smooth baritone vocals have been presented on several popular albums in the R&B and contemporary jazz arenas, from his 1988 self-titled debut, to 1993’s highly successful “Love’s the Place to Be” and 2000’s Grammy award-nominated “All the Man You Need.”
“Some people might not know how to exactly categorize my music,” Downing said. “It can be described as soulful, but it’s also slightly jazzy. I think it’s a blend of so many different things.”
After attending Virginia Union University, Downing moved back to his native New York City, where he built a career as a session vocalist during the 1980s for artists such as Jennifer Holiday, Kool & The Gang, Gerald Albright, Billy Ocean and Regina Belle.
Although he has released plenty of original material, Downing’s first major hit was an updated version of John Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme,” which reached the Top 10 of the Billboard charts. He continued his success with 1995’s “Moods,” “Invitation Only” (1997) and 2007’s “After Tonight,” critically acclaimed albums built largely around stylish covers of R&B and pop favorites such as “I Go Crazy” by Paul Davis and Angela Bofill’s “I Try.”
In 2006, Downing was diagnosed with polymyositis, a muscle disorder that temporarily left him unable to walk and in a wheelchair. For a time, the singer experienced massive weight loss, and complications with breathing, swallowing, using his limbs and singing.
After a year, however, Downing was able to progressively regain his health and has now returned to recording and performing for audiences in the U.S. and Europe.
In September, he released his latest project, “Lust, Love and Lies,” a 20-track album that describes the ups and downs of a roller coaster relationship through music and spoken interludes marked with romance, drama, comedy and joy. In an interview, Downing used the term “R&B opera” to describe the project, which is filled with original compositions, ranging from sensual to gospel-flavored.
“When I first started writing these songs, they started to make sense as a story,” Downing said. “I’d never made a record like this before. I had always sort of played it safe when making records. This was the first time I said, ‘You know what? Let’s just do something completely different.’”
It seems Downing made the right choice, as most music critics have been impressed with the project.
Mark Nero, who maintains Mark’s R&B/Soul blog, a popular online music forum, calls “Lust, Love & Lies” a “very nice” mix of mid-tempo tracks that fit together to tell a compelling story.
“This album tells a tale most of us can relate to,” he wrote. “It unfolds like a movie – or better yet, like an urban soap opera – over the course of just under an hour.”
Did you know:
Downing is a national spokesperson for the American Stroke Association and is a celebrity ambassador of the American Heart Association’s Power to End Stroke campaign, having lost friends such as Luther Vandross to strokes.
He also conducts the Strike Against Stroke bowling event to raise funds for stroke awareness.
His 1993 album, “Love’s the Place to Be,” sold more than 300,000 copies in Great Britain, with a copy being purchased by Princess Diana. It has been reported that Downing was her favorite balladeer.
A romantic holiday
Who: Will Downing
Where: Clowes Memorial Hall
When: Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $45, $39 and $29 (plus $2 renovation fee).
For more information, call Clowes Hall box office at (317) 940-6444 or visit www.cloweshall.org.