Last month, I celebrated the release of my new album at Mercy Lounge in Music City -- Nashville, Tennessee. I named this album "New Orleans" after my hometown out of a desire to return to my artistic roots and make the music that I love. This month, for Black Music Month, I've taken time to reflect on what music means to me. I've traveled all across the world, seen people of all different walks-of-life and there's a commonality -- a love of black music.
While in Nashville, I learned about the National Museum of African American Music -- a project under development in an area dedicated to telling the story of American culture as told through the lens of the vast contributions African Americans have made in music nationally and internationally. This museum will be a place where all dimensions of black music, and musicians who influenced Black music -- or who were influenced by Black music, can be discovered. I also learned that the lineage of black music can be traced to more than 50 genres and as a result, can only imagine the depth to be found in the untold stories of black music.
It's the kind of depth found in the music of legends like Stevie Wonder, who happens to be my greatest musical influences. Stevie is the one musician who made me want to be an artist. It started when I was about 13 years old when introduced to his song, "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer." Stevie sounded young, innocent and passionate, much like me at that age. It was then that I went on a mission, and musical journey, to collect all of his music. Taking my weekly allowance, I would buy a Stevie CD every week and I started from the earliest years and collected to the latest. So, when I started to write my own music, Stevie's sound was very much part of me. I saw and felt his influence on me. Like Stevie, I am keyboard player who writes songs and sings. And the way he told stories, in that early music -- and all of his music -- was, and is, incredible. He gave me something to reach for and is the epitome of black music to me.
My new single, "Only One," features Stevie playing the harmonica. It was an honor to have him as part of this project and the height of my career was when we recently performed the song together at a party celebrating his 63th birthday. That moment... with my hero was the culmination of everything that has inspired me to make music.
These types of experiences are rare, but it reminds me of what black music does, it's not just a sound, it's an experience.
The amazing thing about black music -- our people and our culture -- it's not just one thing. We aren't limited to certain sounds or lyrics. Our music can be whatever we want it to be. I've seen how people of all backgrounds and ethnicities create music without having a pre-conceived idea of what "black" music is and it all ends up so pure and soulful.
We need institutions that keep the legacy of black music alive and people who will be champions for the future of black music. We need treasures to remind us of why black music matters.
Making music is what I love to do and my music matters because it is healing. Writing and performing is a release and refuge from the things we go through in life. I hope that it can be someone else's refuge to escape real life, enjoy the music and let it take them to another world. It's why my music matters.