In many ways, this particular tour run is as fitting as it is overdue. While both are legends of the R&B and soul genre in their own right, this isn’t just about putting two trailblazing iconic talents together on one stage. It’s bigger than that, because the message both relentlessly share and represent all comes down to the healing power behind their music — something our world is universally desperate for.
With Ro James confirmed as a special guest for all U.S. dates, the King and Queen of Hearts Tour is stripping away any over-produced gimmicks to present a show that is supported first and foremost by the talent of its performers, allowing them to create a world uniquely their own for fans of soul music to inevitably get lost in.
Themes of vulnerability, betrayal, forgiveness, strength, perseverance and love – all powerful emotions that we feel better than we can explain — bring us closer to being in touch with soul music. While it is an injustice to the history and culture of R&B and soul to not mention these two names, both Mary J. Blige and Maxwell have the ability to remove their egos from the equation and organically captivate audiences with their music. This tour isn’t just about them.
The dynamic of Blige and Maxwell on stage is destined to be as feel-good as their personal history is together; this is a story of fans becoming friends. With each consistently supporting each other throughout the past two decades and then some, their friendship is as genuine as their music, making for an infectious and inspiring example of what happens when people build one another up.
“Let me tell you my first time hearing Maxwell,” Blige says, laughing. “It was during what I think was the very first vacation I ever took while in the music business with all my girlfriends and so you know what that was!
“The Love Jones soundtrack had just come out and it was the hottest thing on the street and this guy named Maxwell was on there with this one song that was just crazy,” she continues. “It made you feel gooey.. and just all of that. That song to this day was my introduction to him as an artist.”
Blige then reflects on the first time she met Maxwell in person, curious then as to who he is as a person. Turns out, the two are not all that different and that’s a huge part of the reason why both are where they are today, especially while gearing up to hit the road together.
“The first time I met him was at the Soul Train Awards and I was saying to him how great he was,” Blige reflects. “I was so moved by everything that he did but it was that Love Jones soundtrack that really put him on my radar and then he had so much amazing music after that. I just thought he was an amazing artist and I couldn't wait to meet him. And then I became his friend and it was like, he's the real deal. He's a beautiful person.”
Maxwell recounts a similar experience with Blige, helping to add to the undeniable fact that this tour was a long time in the making.
“For me, I have a soft spot for Capricorns and always have,” Maxwell says. “They just keep it real, they're family, they handle their business, they speak it straight and they're loyal, to a fault sometimes, but I don't believe loyalty is ever a fault. It’s always an incredible thing when you're a person that holds down everyone that you've been around.”
Much like Blige, Maxwell was first introduced to her by way of her music and instantly became a fan. His first listen was “You Remind Me,” and he recalls how it was a “movie-like” experience meeting her in person at the Soul Train Awards, where he took home three awards in 1997.
“After her performance, she walks up to me — and I have a really good memory for kindness —and says these encouraging words like, ‘Look, keep going because what you're doing is so special and you're doing your own thing and rock on.’ I just never forgot that,” Maxwell recounts.
The pair then recall how they had anticipated working with each other at one point or another, but Maxwell admitted he had some hesitation about working with her, recognizing her legacy early on in his career.
“It's Mary, you know?” Maxwell says. “I really had so much anxiety trying to do a song with her. Like, I had done the song but I never felt like I did it good enough. Not to be better than her but who do I think I am?”
Mary then interrupts, saying, “Oh c’mon, Maxwell, you’re Maxwell, man! Put down the humble pie for a second, ‘cuz your voice, let's talk about your voice!”
“Your voice is amazing,” Mary continues. “You sing the hell out of your songs and you make us feel, like that's what you're about. Mary J. Blige is not an opera singer and I'm not the best singer in the world, I just make people feel — and you have a great voice and you make people feel so that's what we're about.”
“I’m not fishing here! I'm just being really honest!” Maxwell responds.
“I understand but I just had to give you that,” adds Mary.
“I’m just speaking from the moment and from that mindspace,” Maxwell explains. “I really appreciate what you just said. It means so much to me. It's just how I felt at the time.”
From here, it’s beyond clear that not only is their connection to soul music mutual, but so is their love and respect for what the other is doing. Their energy together is a beautiful thing — and it’s not the least bit competitive or contrived. As Maxwell later points out, both are at a point in their career where they are equally invested in fostering the careers of other artists as they are doing their own thing. They also won’t be counting out the possibility of working on new music together during this tour, with Maxwell adding that his tour bus has a studio, they both have their bands and “anything can happen.”
“I feel like Mary has been, and is, part of an era that when you think about all of the people she's worked with and what they have become, it’s just incredible,” Maxwell says. “They are multi-billionaires now and it all started with her. People do not really realize that. She has blessed so many people with just even being on their record. Mary has a bunch of artists that she supports and guides and mentors and I think that we're at a stage in our careers, especially Mary, where it's not just about us being on stage, it's about us facilitating opportunities for future singers and soul musicians out there.”
Maxwell then goes on to talk about how the genre may have changed in regards to how we label it, but at the end of the day, the soulful element comes through consistently to speak the loudest.
“It’s not that soul music is dying,” he explains. “It's that people need to always remember that, at the end of the day, these records, you can dress them however you want to, but soul music is soul music. Period. That's what it is. It's trap soul, it's hip-hop soul, it's neo-soul, but it's soul. Before the names, when we cut all of the labeling and categorizing out of it, it's just soul music. And that's what Mary does. Mary has been doing soul music. I do my best to do my version of that.
“I think that we need to bring that back,” Maxwell says, when asked why this tour is important in 2016. “I know that music is this thing that got us through the civil rights movement in a way. I think that whatever issues we are experiencing right now in the world politically, it's up to us as creative people, musicians, artists, writers, activists to lift others up, so we can be more unified and to remember that love is everything. Love has no color, no gender. Here we are, for example. We're going to do this tour, and we're going to places where some people can't even speak English. They know all these Mary lyrics and what she’s about and that's a universal language that we speak. It's a great responsibility that we hold as artists to bring that to people.”
Much as the successes of Maxwell’s latest album, blackSUMMERS’night, show and the fact that Blige herself is readying her 14th studio album, R&B and soul music is as alive and well today as ever, adapting with the times while still holding its own.
“I feel like it's important because we need to keep the power of soul music alive and the love of music alive,” Maxwell concludes. “These things will never go out of style.”
See the King and Queen Of Hearts U.S. tour dates below.
11/5 – Baltimore, MD @ Royal Farms Arena
11/6 – Washington, DC @ Verizon Center
11/9 – Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center
11/10 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
11/12 – St. Louis, MO @ Scottrade Center
11/14 – Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
11/16 – Cleveland, OH @ Quicken Loans Arena
11/18 – Detroit, MI @ The Palace of Auburn Hills
11/19 – Indianapolis, IN @ Bankers Life Fieldhouse
11/20 – Memphis, TN @ FedEx Forum
11/22 – Charlotte, NC @ Time Warner Cable Arena
11/23 – Richmond, VA @ Richmond Coliseum
11/25 – Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
11/26 – Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum
11/29 – Miami, FL @ American Airlines Arena
12/1 – New Orleans, LA @ Smoothie King Center
12/2 – Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center
12/3 – Houston, TX @ Toyota Center
12/6 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum
12/7 – Oakland, CA @ Oracle Arena
12/9 – Las Vegas, NV @ T-Mobile Arena
12/11 – Bossier City, LA @ CenturyLink Center
12/12 – Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
12/14 – Chicago, IL @ United Center
(Photos from Left: Tim Forbes/Gallo Images/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/Getty Images)