Born Peapo Bryson (given name changed to Peabo c. 1965) in 1951 in Greenville, SC; mother's name is Marie; children: Linda. Addresses: Home-- Atlanta, GA. Record company-- Columbia Records, 51 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.

"King of the Balladeers" Peabo Bryson can't imagine ever having trouble writing a new love song. "There are no two relationships that are the same," the R&B crooner told William Hanson of the Detroit Free Press. "There are no two days in a relationship that are the same. Love and relationships--that's an inexhaustible subject matter." And Bryson seems an inexhaustible source of those love songs; he's been writing, producing, singing, and wooing his audiences with them since 1975.

Delving into his influences, Bryson, who was born in 1951 in Greenville, South Carolina, told Larry McKeithan of Essence, "I think the sensitivity in my songs stems from my early childhood. I was raised by women--my grandmother, until she died, and my mother. My grandmother was a woman who lived and loved with incredible passion." Bryson spent much of his childhood on his grandfather's farm in Maudlin, South Carolina. "I have two sisters and a brother, but I'm the oldest male in the family, so I was taught to work--hard.... Man I could slop hogs and pick cotton with the best of them," he recalled in Ebony. "Hard work is no stranger to me," he pointed out to Hanson, "I like [it]."

Bryson's family not only instilled in him his work ethic, but a love for music as well. "My mother was a serious music lover," he told McKeithan. "Whenever there was somebody great in town, she'd drag us along to catch them. I guess I saw most of the greats of that period--Sam Cooke, Little Richard and even Billie Holiday. Sam Cooke was a great influence on me. His voice had a pure quality--good wholesome from-the-heart music. I think folks should be exposed to that."

Music, in fact, offered Bryson a way out of problems at home and trouble in school. "School was horrible ... for me--some really bad people in the school system," he told Hanson. "It was a strange kind of prejudice, blacks being resentful of other blacks who had ambition." That ambition drove Bryson to pursue music as a career early on. Singing backup for Al Freeman and the Upsetters, a local Greenville group, marked Bryson's professional debut, at age 14. It was Freeman's difficulty in pronouncing Bryson's French West Indian name, Peapo, that led Bryson to change its spelling. Two years later he left home to tour the now-famous Southern "chitlin' circuit" with another local band, Mose Dillard and the Textile Display.

Bryson's first break came during a recording session at Atlanta's Bang Records. Although Bang wasn't sold for long on Dillard's band, the young backup singer caught the ear of the label's then-general manager, Eddie Biscoe. Biscoe signed Bryson to a contract as a writer, producer, and arranger and encouraged Bryson to perform his own songs. For several years Bryson worked with hometown bands and wrote and produced for Bang. In 1976 he launched his own recording career with a song called "Underground Music" on the Bang label. His first album, Peabo, followed shortly thereafter. Although only a regional success, Bryson turned heads at Capitol Records. Contracts were signed in 1977.

His first release for Capitol, Reaching for the Sky, coproduced with Richard Evans, was a commercial success and included the hits "Reaching for the Sky" and "Feel the Fire." His second album for the label, Crosswinds, surpassed the first in sales and also featured two hit singles, "I'm So Into You" and the title track. "With 'I'm So Into You' certifying his popularity among black audiences," wrote Mark Kirkeby of Rolling Stone, "Bryson's jump from backing vocalist to singer/songwriter, from local acclaim to the big time, was complete."

"With youthful good looks and a relaxed, almost conversational vocal style," Kirkeby continued, "Bryson is unabashedly a romantic balladeer, wooing female listeners much as his R&B idols did in the fifties, but in a reverent, wholesome way, without the earthy sensuality of a Teddy Pendergrass." Wholesome maybe, but Bryson has had trouble quashing the "ladies' man" image that his albums project. Several of the women to whom Bryson has proposed marriage during his career have turned him down for the security of someone lesser-known. "Competition is not something women look forward to. I can't convince women that they're the only one," he lamented in Jet. A curious on-again-off-again engagement to Juanita Leonard--boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard's former wife--have added to Bryson's romantic distress.

Although he has not seemed to find the ideal romantic situation, Bryson has enjoyed superb working relationships with women. A tour with Natalie Cole resulted in the album We're the Best of Friends. Another strong affinity grew out of Bryson's touring and recording work with Roberta Flack. Reviewing one of their collaborations, Born to Love, for Stereo Review, Phyl Garland reported, "The album's quality is established immediately with the opening selection, 'Tonight, I Celebrate My Love,' a fine ballad that has the appeal of a sure hit as well. Bryson steps into the spotlight alone on the title track, his own "Born to Love," which should solidify his position as one of today's more gifted writers and performers of intimate music. This is a flawlessly assembled album of contemporary rhythm-and-blues crafted to appeal to mainstream musical tastes without betraying the artists' roots. Sweeter sounds are not easy to come by."

With each move in his career, applause for Bryson has become louder. New York Times music critic Jon Pareles called Bryson the "Pavarotti of soul singers," elaborating, "He has a cherubic presence, plenty of wholesome romantic appeal and a pure, booming tenor voice. When he appeared in the late 1970s, Mr. Bryson would simply stand there and belt, but he has become more of a showman." Still, Pareles did go on to note, "While Mr. Bryson is an undeniable success, he tends to overpower his songs in concert. [They] would be even more romantic if he let them breathe."

Inevitably, criticism has also come Bryson's way; New York Times contributor Peter Watrous was less than enthusiastic about the singer's performance style. "Mr. Bryson is a ballad crooner, a would-be matinee idol," wrote Watrous, "who works hard to look like he's not working at all. He sang with a buttery soft voice, and for the first half of his concert everything he did--walk around calmly, unbutton his jacket--projected an image of effortlessness that's fine for the radio or a video, but falls short of what's expected by an audience at a concert.... By the end of the show, even though Mr. Bryson had turned up the heat a bit, the audience left without asking for an encore."

If he hasn't always hit home in concert, however, Bryson has usually struck grand slams with his albums. In June of 1984 he released his first album for the Elektra label, titled Straight From the Heart, which included the song "If Ever You're in My Arms Again." His duets with Natalie Cole--"What You Won't Do for Love"--and Roberta Flack--"Tonight, I Celebrate My Love," a Top 15 pop smash--had earned Bryson the tag "King of Balladeers," and with "If Ever You're in My Arms Again," which landed in the Number 10 spot on the pop charts, he scored another crossover hit and solidified his mainstream audience. Both "Tonight" and "If" went to Number One on the adult contemporary charts. After four albums for Elektra, including the critically acclaimed Take No Prisoners set, Bryson returned to Capitol for 1989's All My Love. This Top 10 R&B album featured the Number One R&B hit "Show and Tell," a remake of the Al Wilson tune.

In 1990, Bryson signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and, in 1991, released Can You Stop the Rain. People' s review of the album assessed, "[Bryson] has consistently offered listening pleasure, even when he parks his talent too close to glibness. March him up the aisle with the right material, however--as this record does--and the result can be a taste of R&B heaven. There's always a nicely tempered dynamic to Bryson's voice," the reviewer went on, "due in part to his intuitive phrasing and his gift for emotional shading. In terms of composition, there's nothing unforgettable on this issue. But it's all as sweet, creamy and hard to put down as a box of fudge." The single "Can You Stop the Rain" won Bryson a 1991 Grammy nomination for best R&B vocal performance by a male, as did "Lost in the Night" in 1992.

That he is frequently pigeonholed as an R&B singer occasionally angers Bryson. He reviles the rigid pop radio programming that tends to leave artists stuck in certain genres, giving them no chance to reach a wider audience. "By virtue of the fact that you're black, you must therefore be an R&B artist," he complained to Detroit Free Press contributor Hanson, "and I think that that's prejudicial. It's not an overt kind of racism, it's a racism by omission. If you're a black artist, you're not automatically considered for pop radio."

Despite his fears--and ample testimony of his appeal--Bryson continues to cross over from the R&B charts to the pop charts. A perfect example of this came in 1992, when Bryson's wildly popular duet with Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion, "Beauty and the Beast," garnered Grammy nominations for record of the year and best pop performance by a duo or group. Vindicating the devotion of his fans, Bryson won the award in the latter category.

by Joanna Rubiner

Peabo Bryson's Career

Backup singer for Al Freeman and the Upsetters, c. 1965-1967, and for Mose Dillard and the Textile Display, c. 1967-70; writer, producer, and arranger for Bang Records, c. 1970-1976; released debut album, Peabo, Bang, 1976; signed with Capitol Records and released Reaching for the Sky, 1977; signed with Elektra Records, c. 1983; signed with Columbia Records, 1990.

Peabo Bryson's Awards

(With Celine Dion) Grammy Award for best pop performance by a duo or group, 1992, for "Beauty and the Beast."

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 24, 2004: Bryson's album, Best of Peabo Bryson, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, February 26, 2004.

October 4, 2005: Bryson's album, Christmas with You, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, October 7, 2005.

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 3 years ago

I only wish to know if Peabo Bryson is married now! today!!!...September 27, 2011 for I'm still waiting to catch him in concert, here in VEGAS now as I waited while in Chicago but he'll always remain one of my best top 3 favorites...Nothing he has ever recorded ever fell on my ears wrong. Everything he's ever sang was Directly to me, for me, and you cannot tell me different....LOL....How can I find him?

about 3 years ago

Well,here I am again.I thought I could say that I was content with just watching the videos and hearing his voice but I was wrong over the years I have acquired one album of his that I have cherished since I got it. He was so very handsome and so gorgeous. OOOOOOO!!!!! I wish I could me him!! and I wish my legs would work like they used to. I am so totally in love with him he is awesome. I have tried to learn things about him and why is daughters mother is not in the picture. I notice when he sings it is with so much passion. Is it because of her? What was wrong why did she leave this fine specimen of manhood? I love him and I am in love with him. He is forever my love.

about 3 years ago

time has really gone by sugarpuddin i would have married and will still been married and these women could not even writes these comments. we would be a couple and knowing the truth about God and would be happier than ever. Mr byrson i`m sorry that time has passed by. Oh! i can sing a little too it would have been so romantic and loving. I KNOW HOW TO LOVE A MAN that i would have made the best of a beautiful arrangment. Agap`e

over 3 years ago

I grew up with the talent of Peapo. we use tto sing and play piano in our house. Moses Dillard is my cousin

over 3 years ago

First, Let me say Happy Birthday, April 13th, 2011!!!!:) Next I have loved you since you started and continue to LOVE you, through my two(2) marriages they knew Peabo was the real husband :) Keep singing it seems that in my latter years my vocals are extremely beautiful and it goes to show that everone brn in the year 1951 was born to be singers. Love you and when ever you are near Washington,DC, Hampton,VA I am there!

over 3 years ago

I am totally IN LOVE with Peabo Bryson. I cannot imagine anybody not wanting to be married to him,that is so totally unbelievable to me. If he had of only come to Waxahachie,Texas where I am and was waiting for him, I can guarantee you if he had asked me I would have NEVER in a million years said "NO". It would not have been in my vocabulary. I am sure he gets fan letters like this all the time and there is nothing special about this one other than it comes from me. But I love me some PEABO BRYSON. I surely do. I thought I might get a chance to meet him one day, but no. I have gotten older and fatter and my legs don't work like they used to. So I just settle for listening to him sing over and over and watching him on the videos. I'm content.

about 4 years ago

I've always and still love his music. I have all of his albums. I've always said that if we ever meet, we will get married. I remember when I had front row seats to the concert in Pittsburgh in the early 1980's. He came out signing Minute By Minute. When he came on stage, his zipper was down and I shouted as low as I could, "Your zipper is down, your zipper is down." He was so smooth, just turned around zipped, it up and kept on signing. He had on a royal blue suit with a white shirt. The reason why he hasn't married yet is because he hasn't met me yet and I haven't married yet either.(SMILE)

over 4 years ago

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PEABO.LOVE U ALWAYS.#1

about 5 years ago

Peabo's music is amazing, my favorite of all favorites is HOLD ON TO THE WORLD, you haven't experienced Peabo until you've heard this joint... I want it on CD but i don't think it's available... I love you Peabo, and thank you so much for the love... and keep on making us melt...

over 5 years ago

Peabo is the sweetness of new love found and the heartache of love lost rolled into one unmistakable sound. Only someone who has experienced the vast measure of both can sing with the effortless truth that comes through in all of Peabo's songs. I have loved this man's music since "Just Another Day". Covered in silk and draped in velvet is how I would classify his voice. Close your eyes and his words take on vision, emotion and ...All you have to do is listen and you know what I mean.

almost 6 years ago

I've been a Peabo Bryson fan since "Reaching For The Sky". In fact, I have two LPs, just in case something happens to one. :) It's hard to believe that that classic LP came out over 30 years ago! It sounds just as good today, as it did then. God bless you Peabo for blessing us with over 30 years of your talent. Your music has made me and a lot of others so very happy. Tony and Peter: "Hold On To The World" is so beautiful that it STILL makes me weep when I hear it. The best way to find "Reaching For The Sky" these days, is either Ebay or www.gemm.com Also, try your local Salvation Army. You can find lp's there for 2.00 or less! Good luck!

almost 6 years ago

I had an oppoortunity to met Mr. Bryson tonight in Cleveland, Ohio and was very please to hear him and enjoy his music. I have been a fan of his for many many years, and attended many concerts. He has a voice that can never be replaced or duplicated. Thank you so much Peabo for your music and the joy it brings, especially the old school. I will always adore the picture with you tonight and the kind words. God Bless! Lesley

over 6 years ago

Peter, I too am looking for "Hold Onto the World" - I have it on a cassette tape I made but want to find it on cd with the original albumn. Can someone help me or do I have to spend alot of money on an expensive device to convert my cassette into mp3 format?

over 6 years ago

Thanks for clearing up the question, as to wheather or not Peabo was married to Juanita. I live in Largo Maryland and with living not to far from where, Suga Ray grew-up..that's all I heard. I MYSELF KNEW THEY DATED But needed to clear up the fact that Peabo didn't marry her.. Thanks

over 6 years ago

I really enjoy the classics; I'm trying to find "Hold On To The World" and " Love Walked out on Me" by Peabo Bryson (Reaching for the Sky album) but no one knows what i'm talking about. Please help a brother... PAC