As the “Prince of Sophisticated Soul,” Will Downing is in the midst of a remarkable 30-year career that includes twenty solo albums, with chart topping singles in Dance, R&B, and Jazz. However, his road to success was long and winding, as he struggled to grow his reputation abroad despite slight recognition at home. At the height of his career, a paralyzing bout with an auto-immune disease threatened his life. Now Will Downing reveals to Unsung the hard-earned achievements – and costs – of a soul survivor.
Right On! Digital’s CEO Cynthia Horner discussed a few of the topics that Downing feels passionate about in this exclusive interview.
Q: You are friends with my sorors from Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
A: I remember performing at one of their big events in Dallas. You’re the best!
Q: How do you feel about your Unsung episode?
A: I’m very excited about it. I’m a fan of the show and I enjoy hearing about artists before they became famous.
Q: On shows of this nature, you have to get up close up and personal. Did you have reservations about that?
A: Not at all. I get to let it all out! That’s the premise behind the show and if you’re not going to open up and be realistic…There are many artists are deserving. You’ll see Kenny Lattimore on there and he’s a very good friend of mine. He had some nice things to say about me; I’ll make sure there’s a check in the mail. (Laughs).
Q: In 2007, you fell ill and that journey was discussed on the series.
A: What happened to me had been coming on for a period of time and I just ignored it. Women are more in tune with their bodies whereas men will not go to the doctor. In my case, things had gotten so bad that I had to go to a doctor. But I waited until it was almost too late. Not to the point of death but a lot of what I went through were things I wouldn’t have had to go through. I hadn’t felt like myself, but I had put off going to the doctor for six to eight months. A lesson for all those who are reading this interview, is to go to the doctor.
Q: How long did it take to recover?
A: It took about a year and half and that was before I started on the road to recovery. Once you’re down, you’re down, everything is taken away from you. I had lost my ability to walk and to sing. I then had to go through the process of learning how to use those skills. I was grateful to come back. I always tell people it was the worse thing that has ever happened to me but it was also the best. It makes you appreciate life.
Q: Did this life-changing experience affect your artistry?
A: Absolutely. I am working on a gospel album called The Promise. I had promised my mom and God when I was lying on my back. I said, “I promoise that I will spread the word.” You say a lot of things when you are down and then you forget that you made those promises so I’m making good on them. This was a wakeup call and a man’s word is his bond.
Q: You come from a period of time in music where a stellar performance was everything. Many of the newer artists do not have that work ethic. What is your take on this subject?
A: As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t perform as an entertainer, it is going to be very difficult to make a living. The career I have amassed has allowed me to do so. There are certain songs that people just have to hear and they will come back to hear those songs. I can do theaters as well clubs. So I was born at the right time. One thing that is never going to change is the live performance.
Q: Why is it that some artists do not understand that killer live performances can keep them afloat.
A: This whole thing with the music business these days is that the turnover is so quick. A lot of times, these known artists are the flavor of the month and they look over their shoulder and there’s someone else coming behind them. They’re trying to sustain and stay in the public eye. Sometimes they’re busy on social media tweeting and getting hits. I wish things could go back to the way they used to be, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Q: Everybody loves your voice. Whose voices do you love?
A: There’s a bunch of artists and of course Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder are staples. Some artists are my contemporaries like India Arie, Jill Scott and Lalah Hathaway. There are some up and coming artists that I like and I’m interested in seeing where they’re going to go with their careers.
WATCH A CLIP FROM UNSUNG HERE!