Michael D’Angelo Archer’s love of music began in Richmond, Virginia, where he grew up in Southern culture in a family and community unified by religion. Here he learned a great appreciation for the gospel music inherent in the church. His father and grandfather are both Pentecostal ministers, and his mother had a record collection full of soul and jazz music. These factors inspired D’Angelo, who draws upon his roots of traditional gospel and soul and adds the sounds of modern R&B and hip-hop to create a unique and soulful sound which has innovated and impressed older and younger musicians alike. Brown Sugar, his double platinum debut album and gold debut single of the same name, positions him and several other young musicians such as Maxwell, Me’shell Ndegeocello, Omar, and Dionne Farris, as innovators of contemporary black music.
While his older brothers were interested in athletics, such as football, D’Angelo was studying the broad tradition of African American music, readying himself to create his own interpretive yet inventive sound. D’Angelo started playing piano at age three, then at age four he also took up the organ in his home and in his father’s church, where he was exposed to gospel and choral music. D’Angelo told Vibe magazine of his recent adult revelation and understanding of his religious background while visiting his grandfather’s church: “I learned that the music part of the service was just as important as the actual preaching. Someone might not be ready to hear preaching, but a song will touch him. Music is a ministry in itself.”
D’Angelo’s mother, Mariann Smith, introduced him to jazz and soul greats such as Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye, along with acclaimed gospel musicians such as Mahalia Jackson and Mighty Clouds of Joy. Smith remained involved in her son’s musical career by purchasing for him his first keyboard and critiquing his first songs. In GQ, she explained, “When he started writing he’d write a song and bring it to me right away. He’d run it by me first. And he knows I will critique him. I’ve always given him the opportunity to express himself, but I’ll tell him what I think.”
From all of the talented and acclaimed musicians D’Angelo heard, Marvin Gaye stood out as his earliest musical mentor. Beyond the musical affinity that D’Angelo had for Gaye and his work, he also saw in himself a striking resemblance to Gaye, the man. Both men were intensely involved in their music and both had fathers that were ministers of the church. The bond that D’Angelo felt towards Gaye was so profound that he became distraught following Gaye’s violent and tragic death. He experienced continuous nightmares and finally had to
Born Michael D’Angelo Archer, c. 1974, in Richmond, VA; son of Mariann Smith (a legal secretary).
Began playing piano at age three in father’s church; learned the organ at age four; started singing at age nine; began writing original songs at age 16; sang and performed original songs and soul covers with first band, Michael Archer and Precise; moved to New York at age 18; signed to EMI Records at age 19 and released first cowritten (D’Angelo wrote the music, his brother, Luther Archer, wrote lyrics) and produced song, “U Will Know,” performed by Black Men United choir; released debut album, Brown Sugar, EMI, 1995.
Awards: Best R&B Artist, Best R&B Single, Best R&B Album—Male, Soul Train Music Awards, 1996; Best New R&B Artist, American Music Awards, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —EMI Records, 810 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.
undergo therapy. Counseling was crucial to D’Angelo’s later acceptance of Gaye, both the musician and the man. D’Angelo now acknowledges the connection to Gaye and his feelings towards other artists of Gaye’s time. “I don’t think being called a ‘son of soul’ is weird. It’s natural. Anybody who’s coming up now is a son of that stuff or should be. We’re just doing what the fathers were doing back in the day,” D’Angelo told GQ.
At 16, D’Angelo formed his first band, Michael Archer and Precise, and began singing and writing his first original songs. They went on to win several local talent shows and play for family reunions and other local events. The group performed a combination of original material and covers of their favorite Al Green and Smokey Robinson songs.
As much as his gospel, jazz, and soul roots inspired him, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince showed D’Angelo how to create music which was also innovative and original. In the December 1995 issue of EM, D’Angelo recalled, “I was one of those guys who read the album credits and I realized that Prince was a true artist. He wrote, produced, and performed, and that’s the way I wanted to do it.” D’Angelo then began to learn other instruments such as drums, saxophone, guitar, bass, and keyboards to enhance his musical style and expertise. This later aided him in the production of his own music and other artists’ work. His dedication to playing all of his own instruments also makes him an innovator because he does not rely on sampling other artist’s music for more lush melodies or heavier rhythms.
Along with The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, hip-hop also influenced D’Angelo as modern music with a feel for the music of his forefathers. “Rakim and KRS-One were my heroes. We used to [have rap competitions] in the bathroom during high school, and I used to call myself Chilly Chill. That stuff is definitely still in me too. All rap is street soul. They just have a different method,” D’Angelo explained in the Los Angeles Times. D’Angelo’s earliest affinity with hip-hop continued into his professional debut through the help of Ali-Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest who copro-duced Brown Sugar.
Archer used all of his musical experience and inspiration to lead him to three big wins on Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in 1989. With the money and exposure gained from these wins, D’Angelo bought more equipment, quit school, and moved to New York at age 18. Between the ages of 17 and 18, he wrote most of the material which would later appear on his Brown Sugaräebut album. Then at 19, he secured a three-hour impromptu piano recital for an EMI record executive which got him a record deal and the release of his first song, “U Will Know.” He produced and cowrote the song with his brother Luther for the Black Men United Choir which included great contemporary R&B artists such as R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Tevin Campbell and Lenny Kravitz on guitar.
July of 1995 was finally the time for the release of D’Angelo’s debut double platinum album, Brown Sugar. The album had three crossover R&B/pop hits with “Brown Sugar,” the gold-selling first single; “Cruisin,” the remake/tribute to Smoky Robinson; and “Lady,” which hit number one on the R&B chart and number five on the pop chart. At age 21, D’Angelo made his debut performance in support of Brown Sugar at the Supper Club in New York City where crowds of celebrities such as Wesley Snipes, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Salt-n-Pepa gave their enthusiastic approval to the young musician. The anticipation of D’Angelo’s debut was so big that his hero, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was not allowed into the celebrity-packed theater.
His debut performance at the Supper Club made an impressive mark on his new audience of musical peers as well as many other celebrities and R&B and hip-hop fans. D’Angelo’s stage performance rivals only his unprecedented studio work. Some of the songs he covers live are “Can’t Hide Love” by Earth Wind & Fire, the Ohio Players’ “Sweet Sticky Thing,” and “Give Me Your Love” from Curtis Mayfield. Since his debut performance, D’Angelo has honed his show on some legendary stages. He performed at the 1996 Grammy ceremonies where he appeared with Tony Rich singing and performing a duet in tribute to Stevie Wonder. D’Angelo also performed at the 1996 Essence Awards with Smoky Robinson where they performed “Cruisin” together. In addition, he has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Rosie O’Donnell Show, New York Undercover, and Soul Train.
Along with working on more of his own music, D’Angelo has continued to do production work for artists such as the Boys Choir of Harlem, Brandy, SWV, The Roots, Mary J. Blige, and Vertical Hold. He has also done music and production work on some movie soundtracks, including Get on the Bus, High School High, and Space Jam. He has been recognized by his peers with numerous award nominations for best new R&B artist and/or song, including three Soul Train Music awards in 1996, four NAACP awards in 1996, three Grammy nominations in 1996 and one in 1997, and also another nomination in 1996 for the MTV Music Awards. In 1997 he won an American Music Award for Best New R&B Artist.
As D’Angelo continues to blend musical tradition with new hooks and grooves, contemporary soul and R&B will also continue to grow with the depth and skill of young multi-faceted musicians like himself. He explained his musical aspirations in the Los Angeles Times: “I just want to make some dope black music, some good soul music. I could not care less about a hit song. This is only my first album. I feel like I’m growing musically, that now I know what I want to do, and how better to do it. I just want to keep elevating my music to a new level.”
(With others) Jason’s Lyric (soundtrack), EMI, 1994. Brown Sugar, EMI, 1995.
EM, December 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, June 30, 1995.
GQ, November 1995.
Interview Magazine, August 1995.
Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1995.
Newsweek, September 25, 1995.
Rolling Stone, September 7, 1995.
Sassy, May 1996.
Time, September 18, 1995.
US, December 1995.
USA Today, June 8, 1995, November 1, 1995.
Vibe, June 1995, September 1996.
Additional biographical information along with the articles listed above supplied by EMI Records publicity materials, 1997.
"D’Angelo." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dangelo
"D’Angelo." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dangelo
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Born: Michael Eugene Archer; Richmond, Virginia, 11 February 1974
Best-selling album since 1990: Voodoo (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "Brown Sugar," "Untitled (How Does It Feel)"
D'Angelo emerged as the leading artist of the neosoul movement, which favored live instrumentation and classic R&B song structures. Endowed with a voice, writing talent, and sex appeal, he initially attracted attention as a songwriter. He released his first album, Brown Sugar, in 1995. His songs suggest the classic R&B style of artists such as Al Green and Marvin Gaye as well as the deep funk of hip-hop. His cult grew slowly, spurred on by the commercial success of like-minded artists such as Erykah Badu, Maxwell, and Lauryn Hill. In the five years between his first and second albums, word of mouth had made D'Angelo a star, as evidenced by the debut of Voodoo (2000) at number one on the pop album charts.
D'Angelo took to music at an early age, teaching himself piano while growing up in Richmond, Virginia. Considered something of a local prodigy, he was encouraged to enroll in the weekly amateur talent show at Harlem's Apollo Theater in 1991 and handily won the competition three straight times. Those accolades, along with his songwriting work for the hip-hop group I.D.U., won him a publishing contract with EMI Records. He remained in Virginia for the next few years, working on songs and perfecting his craft. His first noticeable success came as writer and producer of "U Will Know," a song performed by the R&B supergroup Black Men United for the soundtrack of the film Jason's Lyric (1994). With a solid hit under his belt, EMI gave D'Angelo the go-ahead to write and produce his own album.
Brown Sugar (1995) was released at a low point for the R&B genre; it pointed both to the future and the past. The record's rich instrumentation and deep, soulful grooves stand in opposition to the shrill production style popularized by R. Kelly and Sean "Puffy" Combs. As a songwriter D'Angelo invokes the balladry of a soul crooner like Stevie Wonder, but he balances that sweetness with the conflicted, confessional style of Prince. His songs are as complicated as they are smooth, exuding retro warmth and hip-hop energy. The title track is an irresistible and nearly psychedelic ode to love. "Me and Those Dreamin' Eyes of Mine" is a soaring ballad that displays the singer's talents in full bloom—its tight structure allows his voice to dance playfully over the groove, creating an emotional experience that recalls the blissful heyday of soul. The album closes on a contemplative note with the atmospheric "Higher."
D'Angelo spent the next few years in relative seclusion, releasing the live set Live at the Jazz Café (1998) and a handful of songs for various soundtracks. During this quiet time, however, his popularity grew. Brown Sugar was hardly a blockbuster upon release, but it steadily sold more than 2 million copies, fostering a devoted audience and driving intense interest in his work.
After jumping to Virgin Records, D'Angelo began a new album with help from several musicians, including Lauryn Hill and Method Man. The release of Voodoo in 2000 ended years of waiting and presented fans with a looser, more experimental set. The album abandons the precise arrangements of Brown Sugar for an expansive exploration of deeper tones and textures. On most tracks D'Angelo lets his voice wander over a jammy instrumental, giving the songs an unadorned, live-in-the-studio feel. A less talented artist would have difficulty sustaining such a freewheeling mood over an entire album, but D'Angelo succeeds with confidence and stirring style. "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" provides the template for the record: the singer emotes forcefully over a bare-bones funk guitar riff. "Chicken Grease" and "Spanish Joint" are similarly stripped down, allowing for the delivery of maximum soul with minimal sound and making for an innovative and invigorating interpretation on contemporary R&B.
D'Angelo's neosoul style emanates from his method of operation: He does not rely on well-worn structures, nor does he simply inject hip-hop beats into familiar melodies. He reinvents the genre by applying a hip-hop attitude to an older form; and he follows his own muse rather than chart trends. His work is challenging, often defiant R&B with a rare vibrancy.
Brown Sugar (Capitol, 1995); Live at the Jazz Café (EMI, 1998); Voodoo (Virgin, 2000).
"D'Angelo." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/dangelo
"D'Angelo." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/dangelo
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The rediscovery of older styles of black popular music has been a hallmark of African-American music near the turn of the century. The classic figures of soul, R&B, and even jazz have come once again to exert an influence on younger performers, who find connections between those older styles and the features of the hip-hop and electronic dance music they grew up with. One of the most creative of these young revivalists, and the one who drew most directly on the raw, sensual power of such classic artists as Marvin Gaye, has been D’Angelo—who indeed shows signs that he may match that master’s combination of sex appeal and sheer musical originality.
D’Angelo was born Michael D’Angelo Archer on February 11, 1974, in Richmond, Virginia. With a father and grandfather who were both Pentecostal preachers, his upbringing was naturally a religious one, soaked in gospel music. His mother, a legal secretary named Mariann Smith, was a jazz enthusiast who introduced her son to the musical complexities of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis as well as to the soul and R&B music of the 1970s. She bought her son his first electric keyboard, but also tempered a mother’s natural supportiveness with a critical ear. Quoted in Contemporary Musicians, she recalled that “[w]hen he started writing he’d write a song and bring it to me right away... And he knows I will critique him. I’ve always given him the opportunity to express himself, but I’ll tell him what I think.”
The singer who made the strongest impression on the young musician was Marvin Gaye, and Gaye’s violent death in 1984 shook him up a great deal. “The night he died my nightmares started,” D’Angelo told Interview. “I couldn’t listen to any song of his for years. I was petrified of them. I would weep. My mother took me to a psychiatrist to try to get a grip on it. The psychiatrist said something like, Unconsciously I had phobias about similarities between Marvin’s relationship with his father and my relationship with my father. . .”
At age nine, D’Angelo added vocals to his piano and organ skills. By the time he was 16, he had formed his own group, called Michael Archer and Precise, and had begun to accumulate compositions of his own. A precocious songwriter, he composed between the ages of 17 and 18 most of the material that would appear
At a Glance…
Born Michael D’Angelo Archer, February 11, 1974, in Richmond, VA; son of a Pentecostal minister and a legal secretary. Education: Attended high school in Richmond. Religion: Pentecostal.
Career: R&B vocalist, recording artist, composer, and producer. Formed group Michael Archer and Precise at age 16 and began writing original songs; won, along with rest of group, amateur contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater three times; signed to EMI label at age 19; wrote and produced song “U Will Know” for Jason’s Lyric soundtrack; released Brown Sugar, 1995; released Voodoo, 2000.
Awards: Best R&B Artist, Best R&B Single, Best R&B Album—Males, Soul Train Music Awards, 1996; Best New R&B Artist, American Music Awards, 1997; three Grammy award nominations for Brown Sugar,
three years later on his debut album. The group began winning talent shows in the Richmond area and making plans for bigger things. With a repertoire evenly divided between originals and soul classics, they headed for an event that had set many an R&B artist’s career on its way—the Amateur Night competition at the famed Apollo Theater in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.
They ended up winning the contest three times, and D’Angelo quit school and headed for New York at the age of 18. Another major musical inspiration around this time was Prince, whose triple threat of sensual vocals, multi-instrumental capabilities, and production skills had revolutionized music in the 1980s. D’Angelo set out to become the same kind of all-around musician that Prince was. In addition to his keyboard and vocal skills, he is proficient on drums, saxophone, guitar, and bass, and he has produced recordings by such artists as Brandy, SWV, Mary J. Blige, and The Roots.
Just as Prince’s range of skills had impressed the recording executives he approached, D’Angelo found a ready reception when he auditioned for the EMI label in 1993. He dazzled EMI executives with a three-hour piano recital and was signed to a contract. EMI broke in their hot new property with a single release, “U Will Know.” The song, co-written and produced by D’Angelo, was included on the soundtrack of the film Jason’s Lyric. The song featured an all-star ensemble that included R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Tevin Campbell, and Lenny Kravitz. Not yet 20 years old, D’Angelo was playing in the big leagues.
D’Angelo’s debut album, Brown Sugar, was released in 1995. The album became one of the top recording events of the year, selling over two million copies and crossing over to the pop charts with its three hit singles: the title track, a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’,” and the pop Top Five “Lady.” D’Angelo wowed influential New York crowds with his initial concerts in support of the album, and the buzz only grew stronger. A definite ingredient in its success was the co-production work of Ali-Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, who was responsible for the seamless integration of hip-hop beats into D’Angelo’s old-school-influenced material.
Brown Sugar was honored with three Soul Train awards and three Grammy nominations, and D’Angelo picked up an American Music Award for Best New R&B Artist among numerous other honors. His live shows thrilled female fans, and he stayed in the spotlight in various ways, contributing music and production work to film soundtracks, including Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus, and joining with Lauryn Hill for a duet on Hill’s 1998 debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But material for a sophomore release was slow in coming. D’Angelo headed back to the South, spending time in South Carolina and in his hometown of Richmond and reconnecting himself with the African-American musical history that had first inspired him.
To the classic soul vocals that he had mastered, D’Angelo gradually added a musical layer shaped by guitar-based funk. He immersed himself in the music of Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament and Funkadelic, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix. D’Angelo recorded his Voodoo CD in Hendrix’s Electric Lady studios in New York, telling Entertainment Weekly that “I began to see the connection between him and everybody else—Sly, George Clinton—and I started to realize that Jimi was just as much a pioneer of funk as those guys were.” The result was an album that Time termed “a masterpiece,” a blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop, ambient music, and D’Angelo’s usual soulful vocals. The album featured contributions from rappers Redman and Method Man and jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Voodoo was released in February of 2000, and made its debut at Number One on Billboard magazine’s pop chart.
D’Angelo, thanks to the depth of his encounter with the music of the past, had gained the combination of chart-topping popularity and critical respect by the year 2000. Though he was only 26, he had himself already influenced a host of other artists; what some critics called his “neo-soul” music had blazed the way for such performers as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray, and others. “I got something I’m seeing; I got a vision,” he told Time, explaining his aim to infuse the black popular scene with music of high artistic quality. “This album [Voodoo] is the second step to that vision.” That vision seems an immensely promising and far-sighted one.
Brown Sugar, EMI, 1995.
Voodoo, EMD/Virgin, 2000.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 20, Gale, 1997.
Billboard, February 19, 2000, p. 96.
Entertainment Weekly, January 21, 2000, p. 104; February 4, 2000, p. 28.
Interview, January 1996, p. 64; February 1999, p. 106.
Jet, July 3, 2000, p. 58.
Time, January 24, 2000, p. 70.
Additional information was obtained on-line at www.allmusic.com.
"D’Angelo 1974–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dangelo-1974
"D’Angelo 1974–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dangelo-1974