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Brian McKnight to perform Saturday at Stranahan

Soul singer laments current state of music

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    Singer Brian McKnight will perform at the Stranahan Theater Saturday at 8 p.m.

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Singer Brian McKnight will perform at the Stranahan Theater Saturday at 8 p.m.

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Brian McKnight is unapologetically old school in his approach to music, his career, and the business of making art.

At 43, the veteran soul singer is faced with a contemporary conundrum: his romantic, sexy music is aimed squarely at adults, but the marketplace is geared to kids who don't appreciate the more subtle aspects of love. So, how do you write hits in that world?

"In the past when you heard a song it gave you the goose bump factor; when you heard it, it did something to you, and that's what determined whether radio played it," he said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

But that's gone, replaced by a less artful bunch of men and women in suits who analyze songs based purely on how well they will sell, he said.

"Now that the music people are out of the music business, it's just business."

McKnight's first album was released in 1992 and since then he's produced 11 releases, seven of which reached the Top Ten of Billboard's Rhythm and Blues charts. He's collaborated with Justin Timberlake, Diddy, and Nate Dogg, but has always maintained a singular sound that owes a debt to Marvin Gaye far more than it does hit-makers of the past 20 years.

He'll be at the Stranahan Theater on Saturday night showcasing his work in a solo concert that will feature him on guitar and keyboards, telling stories and performing music.

It's a testament to his body of work that he can present his songs in an unadorned atmosphere absent studio trickery and technological gimmicks and make it work.

"In the same way that we throw the word 'friend' around very loosely ... there are very few artists but there are a lot of people making music," he said. "Nowadays DJs and producers are far more relevant than artists themselves, which is a very strange thing for me because I'm an artist."

McKnight grew up in Buffalo in a musical family -- his father was choir director of his church and his brother Claude is a member of the vocal group Take 6 -- but he also had a strong interest in sports. He said he's a hyper-competitive person and he took a couple of years off from music to pursue a career in professional basketball, playing in leagues in China and Mexico.

He also is a 6-handicap golfer and will host a golf outing Sunday at Maumee Bay Golf Course, which is expected to include ex-NBA players Toledo native Jimmy Jackson, James Edwards, and Ralph Sampson.

But of course his main outlet is music. He said he tours regularly, playing six to 10 shows a month in three different formats: solo, with a big band that plays Duke Ellington music, and with a traditional R&B lineup.

He's completely comfortable with why audiences love his music: It reminds them of the past.

"I've had people say, 'Hey man we made a baby to your song,'" he said. "I am now old school and nostalgic, which I will take any day. It's better to be a has-been than a never-been."

Expect plenty of older songs on Saturday along with the stories behind their creation.

"I liken it to a stage play. It's musical, it's comedic. It's my musical story from the beginning to now with no pomp and circumstances. Since it's just me and all my instruments you really get to see the artist at work," he said.

Brian McKnight will perform at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., Saturday at 8 p.m. with opening act Michael Franks. Tickets with fees included range from $49.50 to $76.25 and can be purchased at the Stranahan theater, online at, at all Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 419-381-8851. For information about the golf outing, call 419-504-1627.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: or 419-724-6159.

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