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NOLA 300 Music

A-Maze-Ing: The Legacy of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly in New Orleans

Generations of black New Orleanians have made the band one of their favorites of all time

A-Maze-Ing: The Legacy of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly in New Orleans

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, live at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans.

As a precocious music-loving child growing up in New Orleans in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was aware early on that Maze featuring Frankie Beverly was a big deal. The biggest band in New Orleans. Except I had no idea until I was older, probably around grade school, that the joke was on me: that Maze and Frankie Beverly were, in fact, not from New Orleans at all. Instead, the group was founded in Philadelphia and established a home base in the San Francisco area in the 1970s, thanks to mentorship from superstar Marvin Gaye. But this fact matters not at all to the generations of black New Orleanians who have made the band one of their favorites of all time. The Essence Music Festival had the group headline ten times, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has had them close out its Congo Square stage for the past eleven consecutive years.

The connection between Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and New Orleans goes back to the band’s 1977 self-titled debut album. Apparently, when that record went gold, the majority of copies were sold to fans in and around the New Orleans area, according to the story that Beverly has often shared at concerts. Knowing that they had such a large fan base here, they decided to record a live album at the Saenger Theatre on Canal Street in November 1980. Released as a two-record set the following year, Live in New Orleans powerfully documented the band’s soulful sound onstage and also included one side of studio recordings, featuring the hit (and line dance favorite) “Before I Let Go.”

“I was seventeen or eighteen years old, and that was the first concert I ever went to,” remembers DJ Captain Charles, the renowned local DJ who has opened for Maze repeatedly, both in and outside of New Orleans. “And it was the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life.”

So beloved is this group to New Orleanians, especially black New Orleanians, that they were invited to be guest grand marshals by the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club for their 2000 Mardi Gras parade. Local high school marching bands, as well as high-profile brass bands, know to include Maze songs in their repertoire. The Hot 8 Brass Band has recorded its own cover of “We Are One,” and Rebirth Brass Band has put out versions of “Running Away” and “Before I Let Go.” Local fans in the thousands continue to shower their adopted hometown hero with love. As Beverly told Times-Picayune writer Keith Spera in 2013, New Orleans fans “have been there from the beginning. They’ve never let us down.”

As a child, I believed Maze featuring Frankie Beverly was a New Orleans band; now I know better. But then again, I know better.

 

Hailing from New Orleans, Melissa A. Weber is an artist-scholar and M.A. candidate in musicology at Tulane University. A respected crate digger and authority on funk, soul, and disco, she’s been featured in Nelson George’s Finding the Funk documentary and the book Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting. As the award-winning and trailblazing DJ Soul Sister, she’s hosted “Soul Power,” the longest-running rare groove show in the U.S., on WWOZ FM for over two decades. She has also performed with artists from George Clinton and Bootsy Collins to Questlove and Erykah Badu. As a writer and historian, she has contributed pieces to Wax Poetics and Red Bull Music Academy, among others, and has presented papers at the Experience Music Project’s Pop Music Conference and various academic conferences.