Maxwell was born Gerald Maxwell Rivera in East New York, Brooklyn. His father was a Haitian immigrant who died when Maxwell was three years old and his mother is from Puerto Rico. Maxwell’s father’s death caused him to be deeply religious growing up, attending church five times a week. He also became socially withdrawn and very shy throughout high school. He did not become interested in playing music until his friends gave him an old Casio. He taught himself to play and starting acquiring other instruments to study and wrote 300+ songs during that time.
When he gained access to a 24 track studio, he recorded some of his songs and started passing out the demos to his friends and members of his community. Maxwell had his first official show at Nell’s in New York and had a fairly good showing. A writer from Vibe Magazine saw him perform and called him the ‘new Prince’.
Maxwell got a deal with Sony in 1994 and started recording his first album which was finally released in 1996.“Til the Cops Come Knocking” slowly gained attention on the charts and eventually went platinum, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best R&B album and critical acclaim as one of the year’s ten best albums. His album’s retro soul vibe was pioneering in an era of overwrought production and explicit lyrics.
Maxwell is now considered one of the foremost influencers of the Neo-Soul movement that included artists such as D’Angelo and Erykah Badu in the late 90s. He has since released three more albums, “Embrya” in 1998, “Now” in 2001 and“BLACKsummers’Night” in 2009. Singles from these albums have achieved phenomenal success; one was ranked as Billboard’s number one R&B song of 1999.
Maxwell has been nominated for an Alma Award, an American Music Award, four BET Awards, twelve Grammy Awards, five Image Awards, and eight Soul Train Awards. He has won a Billboard Award, two Grammys, and four Soul Train Awards. He is currently working on his fifth studio album, set for release in winter 2015.
Source: Institute of Caribbean Studies newsletter