Full Circle with Frankie Beverly | Essence

Full Circle with Frankie Beverly | Essence

With a soulful sound and a signature look ingrained in our communal grown-folks culture, Frankie Beverly is definitively linked with summer—then, now and forever. The music of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly is the soundtrack of warm dusks spent cruising local side streets, with the windows down and the speakers turned on high. Beverly’s voice conjures memories of late afternoons seated in a sunny corner of the extended family’s spacious backyard, eavesdropping on “grown-folks business” being discussed at the cooler while the aroma of an active grill fills the air. The group’s songs trigger ­muscle memory of the electric slide on freshly cut grass, Soul Train lines in the living room, and slow dances under the stars.

So it’s no surprise that the legendary performer is returning to the pinnacle of summer, the ESSENCE Festival of Culture, for our 30th anniversary. He will be receiving his flowers as a legacy entertainer and, for one last time, commanding the very stage he helped build from its inception.

“I haven’t been on the ESSENCE stage in a little while, but it feels good to be asked to come back,” Beverly says ahead of his final performance at our festival. The crooner and his iconic band closed out Sunday night during our inaugural music festival in 1995—and yearly for the next 14 years. Now, they will be honored on that same stage for all they’ve contributed to the culture. “When ESSENCE contacted us and wanted to honor me, I really couldn’t say no,” Beverly states. “We have a long and rich history. The ESSENCE Festival is a big part of my career.”

Full Circle With Frankie Beverly

That illustrious career, punctuated by nine Certified Gold albums and multiple entries on the R&B charts, has taken place on stages across the world. Frankie Beverly, front and center in his all-white linen, accompanied by the legendary Maze, has dazzled audiences on dozens of tours for more than five decades. Since 1970, Beverly has bared his “Raw Soul” onstage, with his distinct soulful vocals always accompanied by the live band. Their sound has shaped the very concept of soul, for the millennial generation and beyond. But Beverly’s journey as a performer began long before that.

“I grew up in church, and even as a child, I loved singing,” he says of his upbringing in Philadelphia. “My grandparents loved to hear me sing. It took hold, and I found myself wanting to sing all the time.” That desire led him to form his own doo-wop group, the Blenders, in his teenage years. He later pivoted to team with a band instead, the Butlers. A move to California, a rebrand to the name Raw Soul and a chance encounter led to the band opening for Marvin Gaye on tour. The group eventually altered its name to Maze, at Gaye’s astute suggestion.

There’s no way Frankie Beverly and Maze could have predicted, that first time he and his bandmates hit the stage, the decades of memorable moments they would create together. But Beverly always knew he was home when he was singing.

Full Circle With Frankie Beverly

Since his earliest days as a recording artist, Beverly has created anthems that resonate. From 1977’s “Happy Feelin’s” to 1980’s “Joy and Pain” to perhaps his most enduring hit, 1981’s “Before I Let Go,” ­Beverly’s music has always captured the elation, disappointment and mixed emotions of love found and lost. Just as powerful now as it was in the ’70s, his music has remained a staple, and tickets to his shows have been coveted over the decades. “I think my music has maintained a consistency across generations because God blessed me to write my music from the heart and not what the latest trend was,” the singer reflects. “It stays current, no matter what generation.”

Funnily enough, there’s a phenomenon of people who, while they’ve been familiar with “Before I Let Go” as a certified cookout classic for their entire lives, have never really paused to listen to its lyrics. As crowds shuffle along through predetermined steps of line dance and raise their voices in unison with Beverly’s smooth baritone at key points, many have missed that it is actually an anthem about relationship closure; told from the perspective of a man wishing bittersweet goodbye to a woman he loves, mourning the relationship he still isn’t quite certain why they couldn’t make work. But if so few truly realize what the song is about, why do we all love it so much? 

“Because it’s real life!” Beverly answers. “Sometimes you’re just too young to get the lyrics, but the music [still] gets you on your feet to dance.”

Full Circle With Frankie Beverly

Indeed, the sound of Frankie Beverly & Maze gets everyone on their feet—from the toddlers who just discovered their balance in recent months, to the elders whose legs have carried them across many a dance floor over decades of celebration.  

“As I said before, I don’t waiver with my music,” Beverly says. “I can’t say so much why it appeals to all generations, but I believe God made a path for my music to reach each generation.”

Beverly’s music has weathered the emergence of new genres, the disappearance of hard-copy media and the move to streaming services, and it will surely endure through whatever the next phase of musical innovation proves to be. But the singer, now 77, has chosen 2024 as the year he bids farewell to live performing.

Full Circle With Frankie Beverly

His exit from center stage marks the end of an era defined by our aunties, uncles and peers filing into stadiums and amphitheaters, decked in all-white linen to emulate Frankie Beverly and Maze’s signature performance look. They were ready to sip wine, link arms and belt out classics along with the titan of soul—and to, as his silken vocals command, “feel that happy feelin’.”

But, as Beverly assures us, this goodbye isn’t forever. Though he’ll no longer tour, the group will rebrand as Maze Honoring Frankie Beverly—and he says he may pop in from time to time, to stay connected to his bandmates and to the loyal fan base that he feels has faithfully showered him with love and blessings for 50-plus years.

“Music is who I am,” he explains. “I’ve never done anything else. Music is the love of my life. You don’t exit from love.”

The ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ presented by Coca-Cola® will take place July 4-7. For more information and updates on the festival, visit our website and follow us on social media @ESSENCEFest on XFacebook, and Instagram.

A shortened version of this story originally appeared in July/August 2024 issue of ESSENCE magazine, on newsstands July 25.

Production Credits:

Photography by Nolis Anderson

Production Assistant: Martell Hall