'The Five Heartbeats' star discusses his smooth sound...
By Shameika Rhymes
You recognize him as the smooth, suave, multi-faceted actor on classics like The Five Heartbeats, Above the Rim, and The Temptations.
However, it’s about more than one love for Leon. The actor has also been flexing his musical muscles as the front man and songwriter for his reggae band Leon & The Peoples. The group recently released their latest single, “I’d Look Good on You,” from their forthcoming album.
JET caught up with Leon to chat about the group’s new music and the 25th anniversary of the classic film The Five Heartbeats.
JET: Talk about the single “I’d Look Good on You.”
Leon: Actually, if you were ever into our first record “The Road Less Traveled,” most of those songs are songs that we had been performing; because we are primarily a live band. So we would perform our songs, then we’d record them. That would give us a good indication of what people loved. Our next record was “Love is a Beautiful Thing,” which we released on the Spectra Music Group label. It did really well, but the album wasn’t ready because I’ve been acting so much. So, we had to release another single first. So we looked at what song that we performed during our live sets that people were really responding to and it was “I’d Look Good on You.”
JET: For those that haven’t heard music from Leon & The Peoples before, can you describe your sound?
Leon: It’s a mixture of reggae and soul and pop music. When we first started we wanted to be the reggae version of Sly and the Family Stone.
JET: Do you hear from people that are shocked that Leon isn’t singing R&B?
Leon: (laughs) Yes, I think the first impression is that they have of Leon the actor is that I’d be singing some sexy R&B song. Reggae is what makes me want to sing and soul music is what I was raised on; so it’s the combination of both that makes it natural for me to be a reggae soul singer.
JET: When can we expect the album?
Leon: Sometime in the fall. We’re also going to tour as well. I’m looking forward to touring. It’s always great to go out there and see the people and see their response. I love it, I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.
JET: With all of the controversy behind Madonna’s tribute to Prince on the Billboard Music Awards, as an artist yourself, what do you think about the social media backlash?
Leon: I think with social media, a lot of people have voices that have no faces, so they say whatever they want. Madonna is a pop icon and came up around the same time as Prince. Those are probably two of the most identifiable people of that era. The idea of her doing a tribute to Prince made total sense to me, being that they had a bit of a relationship together; physically and as frenemies. That’s Prince’s guitar lick that you hear on Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and the hook. I thought it was a good choice as far as who she is and how she represents that time. If Prince is looking down, I don’t think he’s too upset. I thought her outfit was very befitting for the tribute, she was right on point with it.
JET: What are you working on acting wise?
Leon: A few things. I’m raising money for my first real passion project Hosanna, it’s a movie about our failed immigration system. I’m recurring on a new TV series called “Recovery Road” and I’m waiting to see if it’s going to be picked up. I’ve also been doing a bit of traveling with my brother Robert Townsend because this year marks the 25th anniversary of The Five Heartbeats.
JET: How does that feel to see that The Five Heartbeats is still popular 25 years later?
Leon: It’s been absolutely amazing. So many film festivals and a lot of towns are calling since they have seen the response we have been getting. People are packing the theaters, and the Q&A’s are just amazing. I’m even learning new things from the Q&A’s. It’s amazing the way the movie has been received and it was voted the number one African American film. During the holidays, people don’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life, they watch The Five Heartbeats. I feel very blessed to be part of that. Robert Townsend is actually releasing The Making of The Five Heartbeats documentary later this year.