Article written by Jalen Shelvin a.k.a Who?
The first family reunion I ever attended was held just outside of my hometown Lafayette, Louisiana, in a small area known as Scott. There was a cultivation of different flavors, particularly their acquired taste for Boudin and barbecue that stuck to your ribs. A second cousin of mine hosted and DJ’d the reunion which profoundly measured as one of the greatest identities to my musical ID. Although his wide range of music selection served as a catering sound to the event, one song that stuck to my heart then and for many years to come, was made by a band with one leader and a maze of musicians who’s instrumentation aided some of the worst moments in my life. There, “Before I Let Go” sung by Maze and Frankie Beverly, helped me find love.
My grandfather always called Maze and Frankie Beverly the “Black Beatles”, which confused me as I became older. I’ve known of the Beatles for a long time, specifically for my time spent at predominantly white schools where my introduction to the Beatles was impossible to avoid. As I grew older, I realized how hindering it was to categorize them or anyone in the same field as Frankie Beverly and Maze. Their cultural decadence, amongst decades of black folk, serves as a reminder that The Beatles instead, may indeed be the white Maze and Frankie Beverly; but maybe even that is a reach.
Frankie Beverly started this group as Raw Soul in Philadelphia, PA around the 70s. With no major hits or recognition, he relocated to San Francisco where he then went on to meet Marvin Gaye, later adopting the name Maze and Frankie Beverly. The group’s first lead single was a bass-lead classic called “Happy Feelin’s”, which ambiguously created multiple emotions upon its first listen. Their debut album Maze featuring Frankie Beverly also hosted songs such as “While I’m Alone” and “Lady of Magic” and went on to be their first gold album but certainly not the last.
As the group succeeded in prosperous avenues of mainstream art, the group repeatedly always made it habitual to remain in tune with the culture that also stayed in tune with them. With songs such as “Southern Girl” and “Joy & Pain”, they never shied away from placing their vulnerability on our kitchen floors and making us all dance to it. My mother once described Frankie Beverly’s voice as a mirage of a thanksgiving dinner mixed with a brandy night cap, and no one else stood close. THE GUY COULD FLAT OUT SING, BETTER THAN ALMOST ANYONE. The purest voice I’ve ever experienced at my existence of 24 years came from a guy who isn’t even spoke about, but a guy who hasn’t lost a touch.
Frankie Beverly’s voice, for me, was a crossroad between a packed blunt and a beautiful brown skinned woman to share the night with. His penmanship exemplified black excellence in the mightiest of forms. Every song became a journey of wonderland, with different themes that all connected as one cohesive entity that made you want to experience joy and pain. What stood out about him is his dedication to not only tailoring the voice behind the instruments, but also writing the lyrics that ushered the voice. He, to me, is one of the greatest writers that this industry has never spoken about, considering he’s never won a Grammy. His cult classics that sparingly spoke to the Black conscious should be recognized at some point of my lifetime. Think of all the great artists who we don’t give flowers while their alive, and think of the artists who we give flowers out to that aren’t as deserving. If the Caucasian community is allowed to celebrate Elvis, who had never crossed over to our side of the pendulum, we should be able to hold Maze and Frankie Beverly in that same regard for their music. Which brings me to this; The cult classic in specific that I spoke about is titled “Before I Let Go”, which is probably their greatest accomplishment.
There’s not one family reunion, wedding, club (YES, CLUB) or cookout I’ve went to and not hear this song. If I did go to a cookout and didn’t hear it, I would not trust the people there or the food. (No, seriously). From the start of the drums and guitar, followed by the soulful sound of Frankie’s “Woah ew Woahhhhh”, the impromptu leap from your seat to dance floor is easily regarded as the greatest moment in black heritage. As if the moment is over, when the lyrics “You Make Me Happy” is introduced, a crowd of many, adults and children, sing in karaoke style along to the band’s charismatic lyrics. I personally believe in my heart that this song can wade any water, any outburst of anger or distraught, into a bliss of happiness that caters to the soul of many who simply love a good time. The beauty of seeing my people two step or shuffle to the sound of good music brings true joy to my life and serves as a reminder why we should toss flowers at the foot of this group.
In essence, we always forget to thank the idols who have paved our moods into nostalgic barriers of perfect. We exclude them from lists of greats, until we realize that they’ve counseled some of the greatest moments of our lives. My family of 50 can’t go a holiday without speaking of the beauty of Maze and Frankie Beverly. That’s why I firmly believe that we should shower them with their roses now, because they will forever grow as a reminder of how important black excellence is in spaces that other races can’t consume and/or understand.