When it comes to introducing a talent like Dannis Winston, it begs the question: Where should one begin? The composer, classically trained vocalist, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist has quite a story to tell.
Growing up in foster care as a young child, the idea of music as a career for Dannis was a dream nowhere in his horizon during his early childhood. As life would have it, a small neighborhood talent show would be the creative pressure cooker to awaken the singer and reveal that his gift was so much more than a hobby displayed around the house during holidays and family functions. Way before founding his roster of bands under his own company DWP (Dannis Winston Presents), it was Winston's childhood favorites like Prince, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder that formed his musical palette and manifested his current day sound and artistry. Fast forward past the adolescent gospel choirs and bands, Winston took a leap into entrepreneurship at the young age of 22 to create the Winston's Crew Collective. Determined to control his own career path and hone his musical sound, he used his unique performance artistry to make a distinctive name for his band so much so that New York Magazine named his band one of the Top 100 Wedding Bands to have at your wedding. The multi-instrumentalist has managed to merge the worlds of music and art from leading his fleet of bands to music art philanthropy as well as releasing his solo EP "Master Class". Leading up to the exclusive release of his newest EP "Master Class" we spoke to Winston about the development of his musical sound, his personal inspirations, and of course, the impact of today's cultural climate for Black folk and how that has powered his music.
"I am a master of the art of the class of learning, forever.
Winston's perspectives and tastes in music were cultivated by years of heeding the greats. There are something about those family BBQ's and weddings that blared the classics embedded in the fabric of our DNA catalog of funk melodies and rhythm and blues soul, the entire world still can't get enough of. We can not deny musically and culturally. Like many artists Winston to lives by a set of personal mantras that have matured his creative vision and seeps throughout his range of music. A true master of any art form is always in that state of evolution for the sacrifice of their gift, but it is that conscious state of mind that propels his gift beyond that of just another good singer. For Winston, that famous Nina Simone quote
"You can help it. An artist's duty as far as I'm concerned is to reflect the times...I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?"
holds true to his music. After coming back from a great performance at Essence magazine's annual summer festival in NOLA Dannis was faced with the news of yet another Black man killed by another police officer. "I couldn't stop crying about the loss of Black men, said Winston bearing the tormenting truth behind his first single release "4 Black Men" from his new EP "Master Class". "My skin is Black / And as I roam, I live in fear / Not for myself, an aging man / For murdered boys, before they're men, " are some of the stirring lyrics that to invoke Nina Simone's signature lyrical truth serum. Dannis narrates the riveting stories of youth, poverty, and homosexuality from the souls and voices of Black men within this track. But even more undeniable is that essence of piercing yet relentless pride to overcome and carry on is what continuously echoes throughout the arrangement.
Dannis is not one for labels, traditions, and rules as his music is a montage of many elements from African rhythms to jazz classics. Between the soft sensual sounds are the grit and funk soul bounce that will get you in the groove. This EP is Dannis' ode to being unafraid to represent different stories of Black men and be a truthful voice on that journey. " I want to use my gift to have a global conversation, but I had to gain my sense of self to do that. I had to practice the inner walk of life to be able to educate through my music and be a voice for Black men, " said Winston whose path to music was challenging with varied experiences. There is something very distinguishing about a man who holds the beautiful compassionate spirit of Nelson Mandela, the unapologetic confidence of Prince, and the fusion of Anderson Paak's artistry as their creative formula. When you are an artist that has practiced the same values and beliefs as the great legends with a different tolerance for ambiguity, it is organically experienced within the culture of the music the evolution happens.
Dannis served up an exclusive performance for his audience at Minton's Harlem last weekend and had this to say about his latest work, " Master Class speaks to my commitment to being a student of the greats everyone from Duke Ellington to Quincy Jones to Harry Belafonte and master of my own sense of class. It is a reflection of my journey as a singer/songwriter, creating a music career managing nine bands and performing music around the globe for crowds from 50 to 500." The EP was produced by Winston himself, with additional production from Matt "eCussionist" Vorzimer (Robert Glasper) and Joel Gonzalez (Big Daddy Kane). The project was mixed and mastered by Grammy Award winning engineers Bassy Bob Brochmann and Mark Christensen. The five-track EP highlights Dannis’ talent as an arranger, musician, songwriter and vocalist inspired by #BlackLivesMatter movement. It also pays homage to Black men that Dannis has been influenced by both musically and socially.
Check out highlights from his debut of the EP at Minton's Harlem and have a listen to "Master Class on Soundcloud below.
Photo Credit Stephen Smith/Guestofaguest