For over 25 years, vocal powerhouse Brian McKnight has been known for his undeniable love songs such as “Love Is,” “One Last Cry” and the 1999 mega-hit “Back to One.” Yet, it wasn’t until recently that those songs took on whole new meaning for him.
That’s what love can do.
“Its an old cliché, but they say that you could have the whole world, but if you have no one to share it with, you have nothing, and that’s truly how I feel,” McKnight said about his new wife Leilani Malia Mendoza, whom he married at the earlier this year. “I don’t want to do anything without her.”
And he isn’t.
BRIAN MCKNIGHT When: 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., June 6-7 Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Tickets: $65 – $75 Info: citywinery.com
One look at his somewhat steamy social media feed quickly demonstrates that McKnight is downright smitten with his lady love — a love which is clearly affecting his music. “Finally, every lyric that I sing now has meaning,” he says. “There was a time when I was writing and I was singing about what I thought was love, and now I have empirical evidence that what I’m writing about is now real. At this age, I feel like I’m experiencing a whole new beginning. I used to just have a career. Now, I have a life.”
And it’s this new outlook on life that he is now looking to share in his live show, arriving June 6 (for a two-night run) at City Winery in the West Loop. “I’ve had a love affair with Chicago since my first tour in 1992,” says McKnight, who’s current single, “10 Million Stars,” from his new album, “Genesis,” is out now. “The city of Chicago just has a way of loving you and supporting both you and your music, and it’s always a pleasure to come and see my fans there.”
Indeed, McKnight’s loyal legion of fans has remained with him throughout a career that had its beginnings back in Buffalo, New York, when the “boy with the golden voice” was a member of his church choir. He would go on to become a band leader in high school, and by the age of 19, secured his first recording deal.
From there, the accolades would begin, thanks to hits such as “I Remember You” and “Anytime. It all evolved into a career that boasts 25 million albums sold worldwide, with music that crosses all genre boundaries and collaborations with everyone from Quincy Jones to Justin Timberlake to Rascal Flatts.
His music remains timeless as ever, as McKnight couldn’t help but notice as “American Idol” finalist Jurnee sang “Back at One” for her Top 7 performance. “I was coming back from Australia and I heard about the performance,” McKnight says. “It’s always an honor when anyone sings your song, and I thought she was really good. She didn’t stay on after that performance, so I sort of feel bad about that.”
McKnight chuckles for a moment, but he isn’t joking when he says that it’s a whole new world out there for aspiring artists. “The business is so different now,” he says, speaking as a respected multi-instrumentalist who plays a total of nine instruments, including piano, guitar and trumpet. “There was a time when you really had to write and play in order to succeed. Now with technology, if you can play the computer, somehow you can play music.”
The release of “Genesis” arrives just as McKnight is turning 49 (June 5). The album was nominated for outstanding album at the 2018 NAACP Awards; McKnight nominated for outstanding male artist.
“Twenty-five years ago, I never would have thought that I would be sitting here looking back at the career I have had,” he says quietly. “I can’t believe I have come this far.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.