In the 80s and 90s, Freddie Jackson was a true stylistic vanguard of R&B. Most of the songs Freddie sang were odes to love’s tender side such as Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake), You Are My Lady, Jam Tonight (which is the official Chicago Steppers song!), and Have You Ever Loved Somebody. Freddie’s R&B jams were barely bristled with bitter or rage-filled breakups. Instead, many of the balladeer’s songs were R&B, Quiet Storm, solid picks that folks never grew tired of listening to time and time again.
Freddie’s distinctive otherworldly voice was immediately recognizable for its rich and lyrical intricacies. The iconic performer’s songs were pure, honest and not overtly sexual, unlike the carnal co-dependent offerings that are cranked out today and labeled R&B. Smooth sensitivity and svelte maturity became the blueprint for most of the Harlem native’s offerings. In addition to eleven number one hits, he has charted 18 songs that have landed in the Top 10. The prestigious Billboard magazine, even listed Freddie as one of the “Top 50 Greatest R&B Singers” of all-time.
Now some decades later, Freddie’s catchy brand of crooning has once again caught our attention. He has again staked his R&B claim with his voice, an instrument with an even more textured finish that is evidenced in his latest album, Love Signals.
The verses in Freddie’s latest work that are buoyed by rich, singable choruses are a personal and introspective release of his stellar 33-year career. With cuts like Find My Way that speaks to his self-discovery, Save the Child which is a call to embrace vulnerable little ones, and Without You, an uptempo stepper that invites couples to once again dance together; Freddie’s album brings to the table a more diverse definition of love, compassion, and healing.
Wondering if whether Freddie has a few ballads in his latest beautifully pieced together work? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” According to Freddie, he is still singing songs that the heart recognizes like with his first single, Without You, a tribute to his late mother.
R&B connoisseurs all recognize that Freddie Jackson’s music is the ultimate expression of love. The love-meister chatted with 50BOLD.com about where his journey has taken him and how he is now living his life like it’s golden.
50BOLD: Let me just start by saying I’ve been a fan of yours for many years and it’s actually an honor to interview you today. I’m going to make it brief because I know you have a very busy schedule, and you’re probably just getting off the treadmill.
Freddie: You hit it right on the head, I was on the mill at the gym downstairs. I reminded myself that I had this interview to do and so you’ve got my undivided attention now.
50BOLD: Well thank you so much. I wanted to start by asking you a little bit about your homelife as a child. What was it like growing up in the Jackson household?
Freddie: Well, there were five of us with my mother and grandmother as the heads of the household. There was also my stepfather, but he was kind of like in-between. And I’m so grateful for the love and the discipline I received as a young boy growing up in Harlem living in a five-floor walk-up apartment building. I got a chance to understand stability. I had chores, and there were things that had to be abided by in that household. We were first taught love. We hugged each other before we’d go out the door. So growing up in my home, there was a lot of love, an abundance of it.
My grandmother used to stop my mother from giving me whippings. So when it was time for a whipping, I used to go and stand by my grandmother. As I would get whippings, my grandmother would stand there and tell my mother, “Okay, that’s enough!” My grandmother was a blessing. My mother would scream at my grandmother and say, “This is my child!” My grandmother in turn would reply, “Yeah I got that but stop it.” I was a little spoiled by my grandmother. My mother was a disciplinarian but there was a lot of love in my home.
50BOLD: Were you musical as a child?
Freddie: Oh yes, I sang in church every single Sunday. I sang in all of the plays at school. I was also a member of my high school chorus. I won talent shows. At church, I was the church boy soloist, and I used to get paid. They used to give me gifts as I finished singing, Precious Lord, Take My Hand. And I would go right across the street to the candy store and buy a bag filled with candy. I had a lot of kids following me after church too. I’m grateful for the church; I’m grateful for the elders.
I’m grateful for being brought up just four blocks away from the Apollo Theater and I would sneak in there almost every Saturday. The Apollo Theater to me was a form of education for me. I saw the best performers at that venue–Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, the Five Stairsteps, the Jackson 5, Patti Austin, Pattie LaBelle and the Bluebells. The list goes on and on. The Apollo was my first real musical education. Harlem is really embedded in my heart.
50BOLD: Were you a word processor by day, then sang at clubs at night?
Freddie: Yes, I was a word processor and was singing at different clubs. I met Paul Laurence at White Rock Baptist Church of Harlem who would later become my record producer and writing partner. Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford were also members of the church. Simpson taught Paul how to play the piano and to this day I’m very grateful, because he wrote my first number one record, Rock Me Tonight.
My number one record remained number one for six weeks on the charts. So Paul and I have a forever bond. I believe that everything I do today is by the grace of God; I give Him honor, and I give Him thanks every day. I also thank Him for the longevity I still have even after 33 years as a solo act.
50BOLD: Amen! You began your professional singing career as a Melba Moore back up singer. Were you compared a lot to Luther Vandross at the time?
Freddie: Yes, Melba discovered me in 1981 in a little club on the East side. She came to my show and was screaming and hollering after my performance. I thought she was crazy! (laughs) We met after my set and it was wonderful. I knew I wanted to be connected to Melba in some way so I sang background for her. After singing background and on Paul’s demos for about three years, I received a recording contract with Capitol Records and my album, Rock Me Tonight debut in 1985. My entire life changed after that first album, I went from White Castles to steak houses! (laughs)
I received a lot of Luther comparisons during the earlier part of my career. You know whenever a new performer comes on the scene, they will always get compared to another already established performer. And I didn’t have a problem with the comparison. And Luther didn’t have a problem with the comparison. Luther and I used to stage funny things at different parties that we attended just to gauge people’s reactions. Afterward, we would laugh at people’s expressions. Luther and I were friends. I mean, how great it is to be compared to such an incredible and consummate artist, Mr. Luther Vandross!
Whenever fans heard Luther sing, they knew it was Luther. When they heard Freddie sing, they knew it was Freddie. The friendship I shared with Luther to his dying day was very strong, despite what people tried to make of it. But that’s the industry. The industry likes to keep things going. But Luther and I knew that we shared a love for one another.
50BOLD: You know there were rumors of a rivalry between you and Luther and it’s so satisfying to know that they were false.
Freddie: Sometimes rivalry is okay because it can help record companies sell records. It’s so funny…. Whenever Luther and I had an album coming out at the same time, people would say I’m going to buy Luther’s album, or I’m going to buy Freddie’s album, just to see which one is better. And the next thing you know, both Luther and I are selling a million copies.
50BOLD: I mean you’ve recorded some of the most beautiful classic songs such as Rock Me Tonight, Jam Tonight, You Are My Lady, and Tasty Love. I’ve been to so many weddings where dedicated song played was You Are My Lady; it was the number one song at weddings for many years and is still played today at most nuptials.
Freddie: They are such classic songs but believe me, I’ve sung You Are My Lady at weddings, and I’ve sung You Are My Lady at divorce parties!
50BOLD: Divorce parties?
Freddie: Yes, divorce parties! And I’ve even been invited to different islands to sing You Are My Lady at weddings. I’ve surprise-knocked on doors where I’ve stood there singing the song to a new bride. It’s such a phenomenal song! As a matter of fact, You Are My Lady has been included in the U.S. Library of Congress, as one of the all-time great songs. My name has also been placed on the wall of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The wall contains the names of the greatest singers, who are of African American descent.
50BOLD: You definitely deserve so many accolades. When you think about it, I’m sure you must be in awe of the musical gifts you have contributed to this world. And you say your singing career has spanned over 33 years?
Freddie: Yes, 33 years, and I’m honored to have had such a long career. Word processing was my survival. Singing was an entirely other thing. I am truly living out my dream, living out my passion. And I’m still enjoying the highs and learning from the lows of the industry. I am honored that I have music that still lives on, that people still adore and want even through the ever-changing times. My songs are still powerful. It’s very important that what I’m singing and delivering is not just for the moment but has longevity. I still get excited when I hear my song played on a radio station. Yes, I’m still in it, to win it!
50BOLD: Well alright! I’ve listened to your new music. Can you tell us about your latest album Love Signals. You went in a bit of a different musical direction with the Save the Child cut which I think will be a phenomenal hit.
Freddie: Love Signals is all about coming together because if we depend on the government to do this, well, it will be a losing battle. So as a people and whether you’re Black, white, we all need to make some sense of our everyday lives. So it’s time for us to come together in peace and this is what Love Signals is about.
The song Save the Child came to me at about 4:00 am one morning. I grew tired of being bombarded with news reports over time of just the awful things that were happening to our children. My heart would feel so heavy, every time I’d see news reports about child abuse or other tragedies involving children. And so on this particular morning, I woke up and thought, who can save these children because they need saving! The next day after I wrote the song, I went to my producer and told him how I have something that I really needed to say about saving these babies. Yes, Save the Child is such an incredible song!
I am now kind of speaking another language with my new album. My latest work is more personal and I feel that the world needs to grow with Freddie because he is offering so much more. I am living in a world so full of confusion, and I want people to know that I am taking the bumpy ride along with them and this is expressed in my music.
50BOLD: I’m sure the album will be so well received; it’s a beautiful offering. There have been rumors floating around for a while about your health. Can you please put these rumors to rest? How is Freddie Jackson feeling these days?
Freddie: You know as artists we are always on the go; we fly and we’re on tour buses, we eat right, and we eat wrong. We don’t care! At one point the M&M candies were the closest things to a vitamin that I would take. I was not doing the things that I needed to do to like watching my health. When I finally took a hard look at myself, I had done some damage healthwise.
It was four days before my birthday when a doctor called me into his office to inform me that my kidneys were not acting right. There I was thinking that I was looking like a model and something bad was happening with my insides! I decided that I needed to pay more attention to me. So I began taking medicine to help build my immune system to help those kidneys regain their normal function. You know, God gives us tests. Of course, in our community, when people hear that you’re sick or that you’ve lost weight, we go straight to a virus like there’s nothing else that could possibly be wrong with you!
And so by the grace of God, I changed my diet, pay attention to what I eat and drink. I traded the martinis for a blender that makes healthy juices. I also watch my cholesterol levels. I’m SO done with everything that has gravy on it! As you get older, you’ve got to understand that the McDonald’s and White Castles you used to be able to eat is no longer good for you. So I had to change in my life to take it in a healthier direction and I feel so much better now! The power of God!
So all the rumors and the negative talk really hurt my heart. But I have turned the negatives into positives. I was not feeling well. I am grateful that I was given a second chance. A lot of people don’t get second chances. God gave me the chance to fix my unhealthy wrongs.
50BOLD: And obviously you’re taking your health seriously. Can you share your exercise regimen with the 50BOLD readers?
Freddie: I have got to get on the treadmill every day because it does something good for my mind, body, and soul. So, I want to inspire my comrades as well as those people over 50 now to do what you know is right and that is to exercise. For those people who think they’re too old to start exercising on the treadmill, you are NOT! Age is not about how old you are, it’s about how good you feel, about being how old you are. And I feel great. And I think that I’ve given myself another measure of longevity just by exercising. When I speak to people, I oftentimes tell them to switch the lyrics to my song Have You Ever Loved Somebody to state the following, “Have you ever loved your body. Can you learn to love your body; the way your body loves you!” I love my body now; it thanks me because I am taking care of it.
As entertainers, people follow what we do. They want to know what we’re doing and if it sounds good to them and they see that it’s working well for us, they’ll swing with us. So people should not be afraid to exercise. Once you start doing it, there are little hurts in the beginning but once you get into that rhythm, it is wonderful! So if I can inspire people to be healthier it makes me feel good!
50BOLD: As I’ve stated, your music is timeless and so unlike the stuff we hear now. It’s been said that R&B is dead, is it?
Freddie: Music today has no beginning, no middle, no end. It won’t have longevity, because it doesn’t have ingredients that are long-lasting. Even today, you can put on a record that you listened to 20 or 30 years ago, and you’ll remember who you were dating at the time, and what you were doing at that time.
R&B is not dead! There are just folks who want to destroy it! I’ve always been true to my R&B roots and I will continue to go this route. I will continue to sing great love songs because they stand the test of time. And so for all those who say that love songs are sappy, we need a lot more love to be spread around the world right about now. Dionne Warwick said it eloquently, when she sang, “what the world needs now is love, sweet love.” We’ve got to make sure that we pass the message of love throughout this world of ours.
50BOLD: Which present-day artist has the potential for longevity in the music business?
Freddie: I’m excited about Jennifer Hudson. I think Jennifer will have a long-lasting career. She’s got power but also has great direction, and I love her. I had the opportunity to sit down with Jennifer and we had a lovely conversation. Unfortunately, our meeting was at Whitney’s passing but we had a long talk. I spoke to her about some things and we shared some real life conversations that were not just about the industry.
Jennifer Hudson won’t have to worry about a career in the next 20 years or so; she’ll be fine. I think John Legend is today’s Bobby Short; he’s just magical like him. John is so talented and eloquent. So, I think Jennifer and John are going to keep moving forward as far as their artistry is concerned because they’ve got it.
50BOLD: Tell me what’s next for Freddie Jackson? Is there a memoir in the works because you have had such an expansive career!
Freddie: A memoir is down the line. I’m not ready now to talk about a whole bunch of stuff that I’m not ready to talk about. You have to be really ready to put pen to paper. I think the most people will get out of me as far as a book, would be a cookbook. I’m going to take 30 of my songs and pair recipes with each of them. I’m also working on healthy recipes now that my diet has changed to show folks, how they can still eat mac and cheese without all the fattening stuff. So for now, the closest thing to a book would be a Cooking with Freddie Jackson for Old Times Sake cookbook!
50BOLD: That’s great and I so look forward to your cookbook. So what makes Freddie Jackson happy these days?
Freddie: I love feeling peaceful, and knowing that my family is loved; these things make me happy. I enjoy quiet time which means meditation and really looking inwardly to experience a peaceful oneness with myself. The world didn’t destroy me, it didn’t take my inner peace away. So what’s comforting to me is to have inner peace and good energy coming from those people in my presence; these things keep me whole.
50BOLD: What do you want people to know about Freddie Jackson that they just don’t know?
Freddie: Well, beyond the music industry, I like being able to go to the grocery store to buy my own groceries. I don’t mind doing laundry. I don’t mind running a vacuum cleaner. I don’t mind helping someone get across a busy street. These are the kinds of everyday things that keep me grounded. I was taught as a young master when we were in church growing up, Master Jackson to do for self and to do the right things. And these teachings remain with me today. Freddie Jackson is also a true gentleman. I took steps to be where I am today, and I’m still climbing, trying to reach higher ground!
50BOLD: Mr. Jackson, it has truly been an honor to converse with you. I’ve learned a lot about you and so will our 50BOLD.com readers. You are an R&B legend indeed!
Freddie: Well, I appreciate it, and let me tell you, I had a big party when I turned 50. When I hit 50 I felt like I got it; I truly got it and I am referring to just life in general. At age 50, I realized it was high time for me to just live my life like it’s golden and to make it rich.
Like all the gold and platinum albums that hang on the wall, I had to honor them and truly make them shine. So I pay homage to the many people who made it possible for me to have those hangings on the wall. So, I’m good. Freddie’s good. So even with the problems I’ve experienced, I’m blessed, so blessed; I’m a blessed vessel!