Freddie Jackson, R&B icon, now 66, ‘counts the moments not the numbers’
By D. Kevin McNeir
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared that June would be Black Music Month – setting aside a month to recognize the incredible influence that Black music has had on the U.S. and the world. Now more than four decades later, the annual observation continues for at least three reasons: 1) It’s a celebration of history as a lot of African American music is also linked to important historical events in America including the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement; 2) It’s a celebration of diversity, reminding us that not only is there unity in diversity, but that the American cultural landscape has been built on the contributions of the African American population, too; and 3) It’s a celebration of music – which like food – is universally loved and needed. Whether we are working in the yard, sitting in traffic behind the wheel of our car, or just relaxing on the front porch, music makes living a lot more fun. In some respects, it even binds us together.
In proclaiming June 2023 as Black Music Month, President Joe Biden said the following:
“During Black Music Month, we pay homage to legends of American music who have composed the soundtrack of American life. Their creativity has given rise to distinctly American art forms that influence contemporary music worldwide and sing to the soul of the American experience. Spirituals, gospel, the blues, R&B, rock and roll, jazz, pop, rap, hip-hop and more have molded American culture and given rise to new American art forms emulated around the world … We celebrate the songs and artists that challenge us to think critically, stand up to injustice, and believe in ourselves. We recommit to expanding the promise of dignity and opportunity for all Americans. And we revel in the sounds, spirit, and soul of some of the very best music ever created.”
Freddie Jackson – Still ‘Rocking’ for Old Times Sake
This writer had the profound experience to chat with Freddie Jackson recently as he took a stroll down memory lane. It would prove to be an eye-opening experience.
In 1984, when artists like Whitney Houston, The Isley Brothers, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin were battling for top honors on the R&B charts, Capitol Records signed a relatively unknown artist named Freddie Jackson – the former lead singer of the funk/soul band Mystic Merlin – to a contract.
One year later, in 1985, the Harlem native would burst onto the scene with his very first solo single and the title track of his debut album, “Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake),” which quickly rose to the top spot on the R&B charts and garnering him a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.
A cavalcade of other hits would follow, beginning with another Grammy nominated single – a love ballad – titled “You Are My Lady” – which some view as his signature song. In fact, between 1985 and 1991, he scored with no fewer than 10 R&B #1 singles.
For most of his life, Jackson, now 66, has made New York City his home. But after taking a stark look at his life, a few years prior to the pandemic, he decided to leave the Big Apple for “greener pastures” – eventually finding a home in South Jersey.
“I had to get out of New York City – New York was wearing me out and running me ragged,” said Jackson, who has lived in New Jersey for the past seven years.
“I needed some trees and some quiet with no ambulances and police and hustle and bustle. I needed to go someplace where I could be at one with myself. New York is the city that doesn’t sleep and I wasn’t sleeping with it.”
The new environment and slower pace would prove fruitful for Jackson who would establish new relationships with musicians in Philadelphia and South Jersey who, like him, really love what they’re doing and remain committed to working hard at their craft.
In the spring of this year, in collaboration with the producer of his megahit, “You Are My Lady,” Jackson released “My First Love” (Climax Entertainment) – an album dedicated in memory of his mother who he describes as “the light of my life.”
“It’s been more than five years since she died but I finally got the strength and the nerve to sing a song to her,” said Jackson who fondly recalled the times he would visit her after being on the road so he could tell her about his adventures while resting in her arms.
“She was my first love and she gave me love, even while I was in the womb,” he said. “Spring was her favorite time of the year and I can’t wait to share the songs from this album with others – it’s just incredible.”
Meanwhile, Jackson, who has returned to the touring circuit with some of his favorite colleagues, including The Whispers (with whom this writer also recently spoke for an hour-long conversation) and Gladys Knight (whose oldest son and nephew both attended the same high school in Detroit as this writer), has several other creative ventures that he’s working on – all of which reveal other facets of his multi-layered persona.
“I’m working on a cookbook which I hope to complete after I stop eating everything I eat and I’m putting 30 of my songs to recipes,” Jackson said. “It’s things like ‘Rock Me Tonight rock lobster,’ ‘jam some jams’ and ‘nice and slow, cook and simmer.’ I think when couples cook together at home, it creates a more intimate setting.”
“And I’m really excited about my new podcast, ‘Conversations with Freddie Jackson,’ that’s streaming live every Thursday night on Facebook and YouTube (@mrfreddiejackson),” he said.
“I think I have enough love and personality that people will want to interact with me. After all, we’ve been doing it for 41 years. I just want to find out what my fans want from me – no gimmicks – having conversations with people who want to talk for real.”
But creating and singing music – songs that “are more than just a rhythm and a beat and form a relationship from start to finish” – are the kinds of songs that he likes to share with others.
“Whether a song is submitted to me or I’m writing it, it has to tell a story,” he said. “Then, I add myself, my sound, my voice, my spirit, to the song in the hopes that it will be well-received. Singers like Luther Vandross were aware of this – bringing the best of who he was to the table – which resulted in success.”
“If the pandemic taught me anything, it showed me how important it is to remain close to God, allowing Him to order my steps, and always being there for those who matter the most in our lives,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but I’m still standing – I’m still here.”
“At 66, I feel more like I’m 25 – and I’m grateful for the wrinkles and the grey hair, too. You see, I’m not counting the numbers anymore. I’m counting the moments,” Jackson said.
For more about Freddie Jackson, visit his website at www.freddiejackson.net.