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Take a look at his picture, and there’s no getting around it: Detroit native and dance music sensation Simon Black is a little unusual.
“I’ve always danced to the beat of my own drum,” Black said. “I used to think that was something bad. But now I don’t.” Black traces his love of music to his formative years in the 1980s. “I was an ‘80s baby and MTV was new,” he said. “The artists that were hot at the time are the ones who inspired me to be who you see today: Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson.”
Madonna, especially, spoke to young Mr. Black. “There was something about her that really sparked an interest in me,” said Black. “She inspired me as far as music, as far as daring to be yourself and not caring what anyone thought about it.” Barely a teenager, Black said he was an early bloomer. “The first time I went to a nightclub I was 13 years old and with my older brother,” Black said. “It was an after-hours club and I heard house music for the first time. I thought, ‘I want to make music like this.’”
The whole scene appealed to him, and when he came out and started going to gay bars, lip-syncing did especially. “Seeing some of the drag queens standing on the speakers lip-syncing the songs, that was really intriguing to me because I used to think I had an awful voice because it was so different,” said Black. So, when Black started out on the music scene, he was unsure of himself. “I was very apprehensive about being an artist because I didn’t know what type of artist I wanted to be,” he said. “I didn’t know how people would receive me. I liked so many styles of music, and in America people want to put you into a box based on genre.”
He tried various genres, and then Black began making a name for himself around Detroit performing at local bars and at Pride festivals. Then in 2013, he said, he hit his stride. “That’s when I met the producer I still work with today, Brian Javontte Garrett,” Black said. “My friend Ziam asked me to perform for one of his parties during the Movement festival that year. My track started skipping. So Javontte, who I had never met, asked ‘You want me to play something? You want some house, right?’” It was then that a special musical moment was made.
“We meshed,” said Black “And ever since then it’s been nothing but chemistry.” Black credited Garrett with giving him confidence. “He was always telling me, ‘Simon, you’re a star,’” said Black “’There’s something about you that we really need to tap into because I see something in you.’ People tell you that but you have to believe it as well. I’m not going to say I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t own it like I do now.”
Today, Black defines his sound as a mix between soul, rhythm and blues and dance music with a touch of pop. “The things I usually sing about are love and God,” Black said. “I have a gospel tinge to my voice. It’s God-given. I like women who have big, strong husky voices like Phyllis Hyman and the Jean Carne and the Gladys Knights and Tina Turners.” This March, Black will release his latest project: a full-length CD called “The Love Suite.” “I call it that because I am growing up as a person,” said Black. “And in the world we live in we definitely need a lot of love. People are so busy they forget what love is. So a lot of the songs on my new CD are oriented around love. It’s more of a grown up R&B sound. I still have a couple of house songs but it’s a different side of me. I know people say ‘stick with what works,’ but as an artist you grow.” His new single, “Fool For Love,” is “kind of self-explanatory,” Black said. “We’ve all been fools for love. I don’t mean you’re getting slapped or anything. I mean ‘I love you so much honey I’ll do whatever you need so long as I’m next to you.’ It’s a mid-tempo beat. You can ballroom and hustle to it and that’s what most people do when they see me perform it live.”
To see Black live, you need go no further than Full Truth Fellowship of Christ Church on Detroit’s west side on any given Sunday. There, Black, an ordained minister, serves as the praise and worship leader and president of the choir. “It’s just a great feeling to be a minister,” Black said. “I like helping people and I’ve always been a charitable person.”
Black takes his role on the Full Truth ministerial team very seriously. “People in the world need to know that God really loves them,” he said. “Mainstream churches push people way because they’re too judgmental. Little do they know, they are killing people spiritually with their judgment.”
With his career on the rise – he is managed by his husband Kurtis Grant – and with his soul stirred by his ministerial duties, Black said he is in a good place in life. “I am happy with myself and my place in the world,” he said. “And I am content simply being me.”