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By Spotlight Central, Photos by Love Imagery



originally published: 09/23/2022

The sold-out crowd inside the auditorium of the South Orange Performing Arts Center in South Orange, NJ, this Saturday, September 10, 2022, is ready and waiting to see a live performance by talented singer-songwriter Peabo Bryson .

Robert Peapo Bryson was born in Greenville, South Carolina. As a child, his love of music was encouraged by his mother who took him to see concerts by artists such as Sam Cooke, Little Richard and Billie Holiday. Bryson began singing professionally at age 14 for a local band, Al Freeman and the Upsetters. After Freeman struggled to pronounce Peapo, Bryson’s French West Indian name, Bryson spent the rest of his career playing the role of Peabo.

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

After the regional success of his 1977 debut album, PeaboBryson was signed to Capitol Records, but it was the two songs he recorded for Disney films that won him his two Grammy Awards – ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with Celine Dion in 1991, and ‘A Whole New World (Theme from Aladdin)” with Regina Belle in 1992. Bryson’s latest album is his 2018 recording, Defend love.

Inside SOPAC’s sleek and welcoming auditorium, musicians including keyboardists Brian Williams and Diana Dentino, drummer Brandon McCrae, saxophonist/vocalist Leonard Julien, vocalist Tracy Hamlin and musical director/bassist/ singer Dwight Watkins, take the stage. The lights go out and McCrae’s drums kick in before Watkins announces, “Peabo Bryson!”

Audience members stand on their feet for Peabo as he takes the stage and exclaims, “Good evening!” before launching into his rendition of Al Wilson’s “Show and Tell.”

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

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Singing “Oh, show and tell/Just a game I’m playing/When I wanna say/I love you,” Bryson’s sweet, powerful voice fills the theater with feel-good vibes as he’s accompanied by a tight three-part backup vocals before followed by a saxophone solo by Leonard Julien.

The crowd whistles and applauds and Peabo announces, “Let’s go back in time!” Here, he and the band cruise through “Crosswinds,” an upbeat R&B number that features Brian Williams and Diana Dentino on swirling keyboards.

“We’re going to have fun tonight!” says Bryson as he performs a lengthy medley of “Reaching for the Sky,” “Impossible” and “Missing You,” singing along with emotion and eliciting hoots and howls from music lovers in the house clinging to every one of his words.

A highlight of Bryson’s ensemble is her rendition of her 1984 Top 10 hit, “If Ever You’re in my Arms Again.” The song’s funky groove has audience members dancing to Peabo’s croons, “If you’re ever in my arms again / This time I’ll love you much better,” looking dapper in his red glasses and his red brocade jacket with square red pocket.

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

Announce, “Can someone make some noise?” Peabo and Co. launches into its 1991 R&B ballad, “Can You Stop the Rain.” Backup vocals surround Bryson’s vocals and Dwight Watkins plays bass on keyboard while deftly leading the top-notch band that’s more like a small orchestra.

The audience cheers and Bryson says, “Thank you so much! Everybody get up! Let’s get funky!” The lights dance with the moving crowd to Bryson’s rendition of Chaka Kahn and Rufus’ funky hit, “Ain’t Nobody,” which brings rapturous cheers at the end.

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

Bryson straps on an acoustic guitar, explaining, “Into every life a rain must fall. If you can keep calm, God always favors you,” before serenading the audience powerfully on his R&B ballad, “King of Sorrow.” Channeling George Benson, Bryson scat sings a melody which he simultaneously plays on guitar before Watkins picks up the pace and the arrangement shifts to a Latin vibe where Bryson and Watkins battle it out on guitar and bass. After Watkins scat sings in sync harmony with his own bassline – slapping and bending his instrument’s strings – the crowd cheers as Peabo jokes, “Now you’re just bragging!”

Reminding audiences of all the talented musicians we’ve lost in recent years, Bryson pays musical tribute to some of his favorite artists. To recognize vocalist James Ingram, Peabo skillfully uses his falsetto voice on “Find 100 Ways” and he and Tracy Hamlin sing together on the powerful duet, “Baby, Come to Me.”

Following his rendition of Roy Oviedo’s “Sweet Summer Days,” Bryson pays homage to Grover Washington, Jr. with his rendition of “Just the Two of Us.”

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

The audience sing along to the catchy chorus “Just the two of us / We can make it if we try” before Bryson scat sings up and down and around Leonard Julien’s flowing saxophone playing.

Bryson salutes singer Al Jarreau with a dynamic rendition of “We’re in This Love Together” and acknowledges the talents of Donny Hathaway as he and Hamlin perform Hathaway’s popular duet with Roberta Flack, “Where is the Love.”

Another highlight of Bryson’s ensemble is his and Hamlin’s performance of Peabo and Roberta Flack’s 1983 hit, “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love.” Singing to each other, “What I want to do most / Is to get closer to you,” the duo’s voices rise above the crowd, leading the audience to respond with cheers. and lively applause.

Advertise with New Jersey Stage for $50-$100 per month, click here for more info

For his final tribute, Bryson pays tribute to Natalie Cole where he and Hamlin sing freely and effortlessly to the simmering R&B number, “What You Won’t Do For Love.” At the end, a fan shouts, “I love you, Peabo!” and Bryson replies, “I love you back!” before joking, “Don’t get me in trouble!” My cousins ​​are here to watch me tonight!

Bryson begins to unwind the evening with a selection of three ballads, including the powerful R&B ballad “I’m So Into You”, the showy “Let the Feeling Flow” and the rhythmic “Feel the Fire”, where, mid-song , he introduces the members of his band before impressing the audience with his superb falsetto voice. After Peabo announced, “We gotta leave this thing on a high!” Everyone on your feet, hands folded!” the crowd happily obliges, standing and clapping, as Peabo and Co. perform the ultra-funky “All She Wants to Do is Me.”

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

As the band continued to vampirize, to wrap up their set, Peabo handed out red roses to audience members before making a peace sign and bowing to the standing, cheering crowd.

As the audience exits the auditorium, we chat with several onlookers who share their thoughts on Peabo Bryon’s performance tonight. Exclaims Roberta from Clifton, “Peabo Bryson was wonderful! He’s a top-notch musician and he’s so likeable that I really feel like he’s a good friend. Bloomfield’s Val – who is holding a rose she just received from Peabo – agrees, adding: “He’s so classy and his music is just timeless!”

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

Charlotte from Maplewood says, “It was such a fun performance! Peabo has such a beautiful voice. Lauren from Metuchen agrees, grateful: “He put on such a great show! I love her voice, it’s so strong. and South Orange’s Debra says, “It was just wonderful – a beautiful gig”, before revealing, “He sang my favorite song, ‘Tonight, I Celebrate My Love’, which was just beautiful!”

Finally, we chat with Rosie from East Hanover who insists: “Peabo was just wonderful tonight! I loved his show so much! It was very interactive, and her voice is like butter,” before declaring, “I would stay to see it all again!

Peabo Bryson LIVE!  at SOPAC

To learn more about Peabo Bryson, visit peabobryson2.com. For information on upcoming SOPAC concerts – including Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn on October 26, Jim Messina on November 3, Valerie Simpson on November 11 and Judy Collins on December 2 – please click on sopacnow.org.

Photos by Love Imagery

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