The year was 1989. The world was introduced to a precocious pre-teen whom many dubbed as Quincy Jones’ and (later) Prince’s protégé. That year, eleven year-old Tevin Campbell burst onto the scene with a number one hit, “Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me),” from Jones’ Back on the Block album.
With a soulful tenor, Tevin topped the charts repeatedly throughout the 1990s with hits such as “Round and Round,” “Can We Talk”, “Don‘t Say Goodbye Girl“, and “Tell Me What You Want Me To Do.” Campbell continued to gain momentum, compiling several Grammy and American Music Award nominations under his belt before bidding “Goodbye” to the music industry for several years.
Despite the lengthy hiatus, Campbell didn’t turn his back on the art of singing; in fact he, spent several years making his mark in the theatrical world.
SoulTrain.com caught up with Tevin Campbell in an exclusive interview to discuss his break from the music industry and the new beginning that has him saying “I’m Ready” to get “Back to the World” musically.
Tevin Campbell: (laughs) Well, I have actually been doing Broadway. I started rehearsing for the Broadway show Hairspray in 2004. I played the role of Seaweed. I did that for about 4 or 5 years, then I went to Australia in 2010 to do the same show, and lived over there for a couple of years. I stopped making records around 1997, then I released the Greatest Hits in 2000. It was a decision to kind of leave the industry and just take a break. I had been doing some recording, just not releasing anything until about 2003. The Broadway thing came up in 2004 out of the blue, and I just really fell in love with it. I kind of just put everything on hold.
Soul Train: So how did the Broadway opportunity come about?
Tevin Campbell: I was actually still signed to Qwest Records at the time, and the director’s partner made a comment that Tevin Campbell would be perfect for the role. Somehow they got in touch with Qwest Records and requested to have me fly out to New York to audition and read for the part, and they told me I had the part the same day. It was like whoa! (laughs)
Soul Train: Let’s talk about this recent You Tube video of you singing your song “Can We Talk.” Twenty years later, it is almost like you just appeared out of nowhere. What made you do the video?
Tevin Campbell: (laughs) I was actually over at a friend’s house and they said you know, you should sing and post it on You Tube. So then they showed me a clip of Brandy singing on You Tube, but it was incredible. So I figured why not, and I did it. I didn’t expect to get the response that I got, because I figured so many people sing “Can We Talk” on there that it’d get lost in the shuffle. (laughs) I did it for fun, and it was cool, I figured you have to use it to your advantage, I have been gone for a long time, so I know people were shocked to see that, but I love to do that kind of stuff.
Soul Train: So some of the comments on the video were people saying they were shocked that you could actually still sing. What do you say to those people that doubted your skills?
Tevin Campbell: I don’t blame people for thinking that. I mean, I did disappear. I stopped making records, so it’s inevitable that people would think that I lost my voice. I just love to see the look on peoples’ faces when they actually hear that I can still sing. It just makes me work harder. Really it’s not their fault for thinking that–it’s my fault for them thinking that.
Soul Train: What prompted your hiatus from the industry?
Tevin Campbell: See, people don’t really understand. I’m Ready was a huge success, but after that Back to the World was not as successful as that album, and then I released Tevin Campbell after that, so things were already going downhill as far as record sales. Then as far as the record company, Warner Bros. was changing, firing and hiring a lot of people, so the focus wasn’t really on me anymore. So it was like kind of difficult to understand at the time, but now I understand it all too well, but that’s why I had to take a break. I mean, I started when I was 11 years old. I kind of needed to just step away and become a man, and grow up and learn things on my own. I was always surrounded by people, but this humbled me and I needed that time by myself.
Soul Train: Are you working on new music? C’mon Tevin, say yes! The music world needs you back!
Tevin Campbell: For now I’m done with Broadway, but I am working on new music. I am actually back in the studio, and hope to have a new single out in the next month or two. The album will hopefully be out sometime next year. It’s been a long time, so it’s like a whole new beginning for me. I have great music to share, and I realize it’s going to be an uphill battle. I’m releasing the music independently this time and not signing with a label.
Soul Train: Are you afraid that people may not receive you and your music since you’ve been gone for so long?
Tevin Campbell: No, I’m not afraid. I got over fear a long time ago. I just have to sing, someone will hear it, and someone will like it. Out of 100,000 people that like you, there’s always going to be at least 10,000 that don’t like you. There’s a whole new world, a whole new audience for me. I have a lot of fans that were there from the beginning, but there’s a lot of people out there that don’t know who I am, so I’m blessed that I’m able to still sing and do music. I’m not going to let fear chase that away. God has blessed me with the ability to move people with music and my voice. I just can’t stop doing it.
Soul Train: Recently Frank Ocean revealed he had a relationship with a man in his past, and some people said they weren’t going to listen to his music anymore. Over the years, your personal life and what you do behind closed doors has always been up for discussion. Does that deter you from wanting to be more open as far as social networking goes or even releasing new music?
Tevin Campbell: I always say that I have to live my life for me. Everyone has to go home at night and live behind closed doors. No matter what you think you know about a celebrity and what they are doing, you truly don’t know. Everybody lives behind closed doors. The only way that I can live and share my life is through my music. I tell my story through my music. Back then, it wasn’t like that since I was singing songs that were written for me, too mature for me. But I’m 35 years old now, so people will hear my story, because I’m writing a lot on this album. As far as what I do in my personal life, if you get to know me then you’ll know. But I have friends and family that love me for who and what I am. I don’t need other people to love me for who I am, I need them to love me for my music and if they can’t do that then you’re not a fan. I divulge a lot in my album. I know the questions that people ask, so really the only way you’ll get to know me is through my music.
Soul Train: What would you say is the biggest risk that you have taken as a singer/actor?
Tevin Campbell: Definitely Broadway. It’s a lot to take on, with 8 shows a week. I did for over 5 years; it’s saying a lot, you have to be on point. I’m being real–you can’t just go in there half stepping or with an ego. It’s a team effort and it’s not all about you. That’s something that was new for me, since I always worked on my own. When I joined the cast, I had to learn that it wasn’t all about me and it was very humbling. I think it was meant to be at that time, because I was very humbled.
Soul Train: What’s the best advice you have received so far?
Tevin Campbell: Quincy told me to always tell my story through my music because a lot of people are saying nothing.
Soul Train: What do you think about the music industry now? What’s missing?
Tevin Campbell: I think people are afraid to say what they are really feeling. I think kids are really touched the most when you sing what you feel. That’s why Adele is such a superstar–she is expressing everything she went through. Everyone just tries to be too complicated, but it’s really simple. Simplicity is powerful.
Follow Tevin Campbell on Twitter @Bigslymn.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.