Mary J. Blige performs at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans on Saturday, July 7, 2012. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber/Invision/AP)
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — He’s danced with Debbie Allen, acted alongside Bruce Willis, blended his voice with Patti Labelle’s and even dabbled with opera, but Alex Boyd’s true calling has always been classic, old-school soul — despite being one of only a handful of white performers in the genre.
“I’m over the moon,” Boyd said of his closing night debut performance scheduled for Sunday at the Essence Music Festival. “To be able to perform at the Superdome with people I look up to and have revered for years like Anthony Hamilton is insane.”
Boyd, 27, grew up in northern Virginia and said he’s always been drawn to R&B and soul music.
“I’m just a lover of great voices — Harry Connick, Musiq Soulchild, D’Angelo, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. I could go on and on. Urban soul music is the last genre, in my opinion, to really keep a real high standard for singers. I don’t think you get that from most other genres.”
Sometimes compared with R&B singer Robin Thicke, Boyd said he’s flattered but thinks the similarity ends with their looks.
“Hey, we’re both white dudes who sing soul music,” he said, laughing. “I’m not offended by the comparison. But if you listen to our stuff, there’s very little similar to what he’s done and what I’m doing.
“I think every artist wants to be an original. I’ve been a lover of different musical genres over the course of my career, from rock, to big band jazz, to neo-soul to opera. But it wasn’t until I started working with (producer) Andy Rose was I able to find that niche and merge it into what’s becoming my sound.”
There’s no firm release date yet for Boyd’s debut album, “Commit Me,” for RCA Records. His single, “I Wish I Knew,” should hit the radio soon. It was produced by Carvin & Ivan, who have worked with Musiq, Jill Scott and Jazmine Sullivan. The project, which has recurrent themes about love and relationships, includes collaborations with Common and Marsha Ambrosius, who appeared Friday at the festival.
Boyd said he hopes the music, most of which he wrote with Rose, will resonate with the festival’s crowd — some of whom probably have not heard of him.
“I don’t think it’s as much about the reaction as it is us wanting the confirmation from the fans,” he said when asked about what kind of response he might get. “I get up and do these songs and everything else goes away. There’s no real expectation of the performance other than to have a real good time sharing some good music.”
Boyd said he finds that his lyrics reflect honesty and “honest messages touch people forever.”
“Whenever I try to make something fit into someone else’s mold, I’ve never found success,” he said. “When I’m honest with myself that’s when the work just flows. I think they’ll see that and enjoy.”
Saturday night’s headliners included comedian Kevin Hart, who entertained the crowd after earlier performances by Ledisi, gospel duo Mary/Mary and Tank.
On the heels of a stellar performance in “Think Like a Man,” the ensemble film adapted from Steve Harvey’s book, “Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady,” Hart brought his trademark wit and humor to the festival’s main stage. Laughter rang through the Superdome for about an hour as Hart talked about his recent divorce, his state of happiness, his children and relationship woes.
During Tank’s set, R&B singer Tyrese joined him for a song, after which they announced the formation of a new group including both of them and Ginuwine. “We’re about 12 songs into molding and shaping the album,” Tyrese said.
In addition, he said they had just signed a deal with Atlantic records. He didn’t provide specifics.
Later Saturday, Mary J. Blige closed the day’s concerts with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Chaka Khan’s “Can’t Nobody,” and The Gap Band’s “Outstanding,” followed by fan favorites including “No More Drama,” ”Not Gon’ Cry,” ”Mr. Wrong,” ”I’m Goin’ Down,” ”Family Affair,” and “My Life.”