In 1959 in Greenville, South Carolina, a little Black boy went to a concert with his mother at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium (a 6,000 seat venue where anyone who was ANYONE performed in those days.) This is the specific moment when Peabo Bryson says he found his musical foundation.
At the beginning of my interview with Peabo Bryson, I asked him about his inspiration, to which Mr. Bryson responded that his mother Marie Bryson loved to hear live music and would take Peabo to concerts while his grandmother watched his other siblings. In fact, the artist that Peabo saw perform that fateful day at the Greenville Auditorium was two of music’s pioneers and innovators, Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Additionally, Peabo saw The Drifters and The Impressions in 1958 with Jerry Butler singing “For Your Precious Love”, as well as Little Anthony & The Imperials singing their early material “Shimmy Shimmy CoCo Pop” before landing the hit “Tears On My Pillow”. Finally, Peabo was able to attend the concert of the Original Ike & Tina Turner Revue, Ben E King and his popular single, “Stand By Me”, the Nat King Cole Trio, Billie Holiday, and Solomon Burke, among others.
I asked Peabo what impact this had on his life. He said attending these concerts inspired him to begin singing at the age of 12. Specifically, Peabo sang at a talent show, which showed him how powerful entertainment could be if it was used for the right reason within the right platform.
Bryson said that he watched this music transcend racism, religious conflict, and other clashes that occured at the height of segregation. For example, Bryson watched Jackie Wilson cause a riot in a Black crowd amongst the female fans where they would rip off his clothes during the set, causing him to change three times for each show. After, Peabo says he saw Wilson then change outfits again into something more conservative to sit on a bar stool and sing “Danny Boy” to white attendees. Peabo said that dichotomy was extremely powerful to witness.
Lastly, Peabo said that his family always told him that he could accomplish anything and that they gave him the self-worth and love that drove him then and continues to drive him to make the best music possible for the world.