Brian McKnight preaches the power of love through his songs

by - 15:12

If you’re a fan of Brian McKnight, then, one, you’d know that love is a timeless formula for most of his songs.

Two, he believes in its power.

Three, you must hear him to be convinced.

The American R&B star returns to Malaysia for a one-night performance on April 9. Presented by Lads Entertainment, McKnight’s gig is expected to include slow jams such as Anytime, Back At One, Still and One Last Cry as part of his set list.

How can it not? “I’ve always had a passion for love songs and it seems that most people either want it, have it, or have lost it at some time in their life. It truly is one of the things we all have in common. Now that I am in love, I’m way more sentimental than I’ve ever been,” he says in a recent e-mail interview.

McKnight, who has two sons from his previous marriage, met and married Leilani Malia, a paediatric neurophysiologist from Maui, Hawaii, in 2016. His 16th studio album, Better, released via the Kobalt label last year, reflects on his newfound romance.

“After all the love songs I’ve written, it took me till I was 42 to actually find real love. I was fine being the bachelor forever, just being the rolling stone gathering no moss kind-of-thing, but when you find someone you want to really be with, that’s better than any other aspect of trying to be with someone.

“This whole album is the story of my relationship with Leilani, and Better itself is the anchor of how I feel, considering I didn’t think real love really existed. You can tell this album has a far more optimistic view of life in general than any one I’ve ever made,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with earlier this month.

In an industry known for a constantly revolving door of artists, McKnight has easily established himself with an enviable record of chart consistency since his eponymous debut album was released 25 years ago. He has collaborated with performers across every genre including Quincy Jones, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, Diddy, Christina Aguilera Rascal Flatts, Nelly, Vanessa Williams, Willie Nelson and Kenny G.

He reflects, “I think I’m actually better musically now than I’ve ever been. But, times change and along with it, music changes, so it’s harder to carve your own niche. However, I’m not discouraged. I still believe in the power of great music.”

McKnight is unaffected by the constant references to his 16 Grammy nominations and no wins by the media. He is third only to Morten Lindberg and Snoop Dogg for the record of the most Grammy nominations without a trophy.

When he finally lands that elusive Grammy, would he be jumping for joy or shedding tears of happiness?

“A Grammy would be great but I don’t make songs for awards. I make music for people to listen to and enjoy, just like I always have and always will,” McKnight says without an iota of bitterness.

While his R&B contemporaries in the 90s have faded into oblivion, McKnight continues to churn out albums that are still relevant in today’s world. His secret to longevity: “If I knew that answer I’d bottle it and sell it!”

McKnight, 48, believes there is still a market for R&B adult contemporary music. “I think there’s a generation of kids now that are making their music the way they hear it. Sometimes people want to hold these kids to a standard and that’s not fair to them. There’s so much talent waiting to be discovered out there so anything is possible. My two sons are also budding musicians but I only guide when I’m asked to and I participate when I am called upon. I am so proud of all they have become and what I know they will accomplish.”

For someone who never had any formal vocal training, McKnight keeps his silky smooth, gospel-­reared tones polished by practising daily.

“I never take my gift for granted,” says McKnight who started his musical journey as a singer in his church choir in New York, and later as a bandleader in his high school.

At 19, he signed his first recording deal with Mercury Records. In 1992, his debut album was released followed by I Remember You (1995) and Anytime (1997), which sold over two million copies and was nominated for a Grammy. In 1999 McKnight released Back At One on Motown Records, which sold over three million copies.

In addition to being a singer, songwriter and producer, McKnight is also a multi-instrumentalist who plays nine instruments including the piano, guitar, bass, drums, percussions, trombone, tuba, flugelhorn and trumpet.

Like any industry, the music business comes with its share of trials and tribulations, and McKnight finds dealing with the politics challenging. Yet, he can’t see himself doing anything different.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. “The way I see it, I can’t go back. I can only change my trajectory forward and hopefully, it stays positive.”

An Evening With Brian McKnight, a black tie event, is on April 9 at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur. Tickets start from RM288; check out for more information.

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