There are many labels that have been attached to Will Downing over the course of his long, storied career: singer, songwriter, producer and, for good measure, "The Prince of Sophisticated Soul." Such titles fail to give any insight, however, on the fact that Downing—above all else—is a fighter, in every sense of the word.
Since the tail-end of 2006, Will Downing successfully fought—and recovered from—Polymyositis, a devastating muscle disorder, which left him bound to a wheelchair and threatened to end his award-winning musical career. And in the wake of overcoming his personal struggle, on a professional level, Downing has been waged in an uphill battle to keep the banner of "sophisticated soul" alive and well.
Upon the release of Classique, Will Downing managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Luther Vandross, European success, and the power of a ballad.
For many years, you have been affectionately dubbed as "The Prince of Sophisticated Soul." At what point did you first become aware of this title, and what are thoughts about it, in general?
Well, it’s weird. Someone put that on me. I was doing a radio interview at a college station. The guy who was interviewing me said it, and of course I kind of laughed and asked what made him say that. He said, "I think you’re one of the last few guys standing that represent this particular style of music." But then I asked: "Why couldn’t I be king?" His response: "Luther [Vandross] is the king." I thoroughly understood that. So at this point, I am kind of the heir to one of the greatest styles of music that has ever existed. It’s an honor.
It could be argued that you’re equally popular – if not more popular – in the United Kingdom. When did you first realize your European success and your transition into an international superstar?
For me, it was very easy. The first record of the first recording in 1988, the European market and the English market gravitated towards the record a lot more so than the American market, so I ended up selling gold over there. I think we just sold a very limited amount of copies in America. Instantaneously, booking agents and promoters were calling and I found myself over there quite a bit. The relationship I had with the European market started extremely early in my career.