Singer-Producer Peabo Bryson

Ed Gordon talks with soul artist Peabo Bryson about his career as a singer and producer.

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(Soundbite of "Don't Make Me Cry")

Mr. PEABO BRYSON: (Singing) Something that you told me stayed in my head all night long.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

He's created R&B masterpieces like "Field of Fire" and "I'm So Into You." He's also put out pop classics like "A Whole New World" and "Tonight I Celebrate My Love." Peabo Bryson has mastered the art of romantic music. Now the Grammy Award winner lends his talents to a new CD compilation, "Love Pages," with the song "Don't Make Me Cry."

(Soundbite of "Don't Make Me Cry")

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) Don't make me cry. Don't say it's over. Don't let us waste another day. Don't say you're leaving me. I don't want it to end this way.

CHIDEYA: And Peabo Bryson isn't slowing down. The veteran balladeer is the spokesman for a Time-Life Classic Soul CD series. His Christmas album is being reissued this holiday season. He spoke earlier with Ed Gordon about the art of songwriting.

Mr. BRYSON: Composition is a very serious thing, you know. It's--all of our lives are marked with some kind of music. I mean, like, if someone hears the blues, they automatically go back to that place when they had the blues. They may be as happy as--probably happier than they've ever been, but when they hear the blues, they can always go back to that place and time. So first, I start with a melody that reflects--that makes me remember something, a feeling.

(Soundbite of "I'm So Into You")

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) Yeah...

(Speaking) If you can then write a story line based on what that melody makes you feel, then I think that that's probably, for me, the perfect marriage between composition and lyric.

(Soundbite of "I'm So Into You")

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) Close your eyes and I'll love you. I will make a smile down inside you. I'm so into you, I don't know what I'm gonna do.

(Speaking) First of all and foremost, your concept of music has to be that music is universal, and that you should try to use music to heal things and to bridge gaps between cultures, and so you look at music and you're trying to make a song that the world can sing right along with you. So music is supposed to transcend all barriers, and if you look at it from that concept and you write from that concept and you choose songs from that concept, then you're probably going to have success at that. And, quite frankly, the other part of that is it's just God's blessing. You have to look at it like that. That's the way it is. It is not something that is afforded to everyone. I mean, some of it has to do with your destiny.

ED GORDON, host:

What of the idea of the marriage you've had with some wonderful singers, most notably Roberta Flack, and then there's Regina Belle, Celine Dion? Is there something, again, about the Peabo Bryson voice that lends itself to duets?

Mr. BRYSON: You know, I think that my thing is that I'm not going to try to outsing someone. And I think that the graciousness, on a higher level, I learned from Roberta. Roberta Flack is probably the most gracious human being on the planet. As it relates to music, friendship or any other thing, she's a humanitarian and a teacher. She makes you better at what you do, and she makes you feel good about it and she makes you understand and adhere to the inherent graciousness that is in every human being, but she makes you really go after it.

(Soundbite of "Tonight I Celebrate My Love")

Mr. BRYSON and Ms. ROBERTA FLACK: (Singing) Tonight I celebrate my love for you, and that midnight sun is gonna come shining through.

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) Tonight there'll be no distance between us.

Ms. FLACK: (Singing) What I love most to do is to get close to you.

Mr. BRYSON and Ms. FLACK: (Singing) Tonight...

Mr. BRYSON: I fall a little bit in love with all these women, you know? I think that's what gets into the project, into the recording itself, is that when I'm singing with them, I truly and honestly and deeply and fervently love them.

GORDON: Are we going to see--every time I see you, I ask you this because, as you know, I'm a big, big fan. When do we see the next Peabo Bryson LP?

Mr. BRYSON: Well, Ed, I'll tell you, the new music is very, very exciting to me. New formats; the technology is wonderful out there. Just new attitudes and I've found some music and a genre and a thing that fits me, and I'm liking what I'm doing. It's a very hip Peabo. It's hipness with a melody and a real story line, which is kind of cool, you know, to me. And also that--I'm doing a project--the ink's not dry. James Ingram, my good friend James Ingram and my good friend Jeffrey Osbourne and myself are doing a project together. I'm really excited about that.

GORDON: If you had to select what is not necessarily your favorite Peabo Bryson song, but the song you think represents Peabo Bryson best, what song would that be?

Mr. BRYSON: Jeez, that's a tough song. I wrote a song once called "She's a Woman" that was a reflection of every woman I'd ever come in contact with in my life, and it was a real appreciation of the sacred feminine.

(Soundbite of "She's a Woman")

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) She's a woman, that lady is a woman. Here you are...

(Speaking) I don't think of myself as singing to men. I'd like to think of myself as a gentleman's representative, so that's why I chose that particular song.

GORDON: Yeah. And you've been doing it for a long time. And to show I'm a true fan, no notes here: You can find that on the "Crosswinds" LP, not necessarily...

Mr. BRYSON: (Laughs) Go ahead, Ed.

GORDON: ...not necessarily the single, but perhaps one of the baddest cuts on there. So, Peabo Bryson, you know that I'm a big fan. We should note "Don't Make Me Cry" on the "Cafe Soul" CD.

Mr. BRYSON: I love this song. This was great.

GORDON: Mr. Peabo Bryson, thanks for being here with us today.

Mr. BRYSON: Ed, I can't thank you enough, and it's always good to speak with you.

GORDON: Thanks, buddy.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, so intense, just the game I play when I want to say `I love you.' Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa...

CHIDEYA: That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. BRYSON: (Singing) These are the hands that they go reaching for you if you're really there inside.

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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