Devon Howard
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Devon Howard

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"READY TO TAKE THE STAGE"

Baltimore-born Devon Howard plans to introduce himself -- and his hit single -- at the Stone Soul Picnic
Devon Howard grew up soaking in the sort of music featured each year at the Stone Soul Picnic, the annual celebration of funk, soul and R&B music that has been a staple of the Baltimore music scene since 1991.

But Howard, a Baltimore-born singer with a smoothly passionate voice and an emerging hit single, has never been to the festival, which has routinely drawn more than 100,000 fans while featuring national acts such as Toni Braxton, the Ohio Players and Dru Hill.

"I'm just not a crowd person," says Howard, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts whose newest song, "The Other Side of the Bed" -- a tear-jerker about the end of a relationship -- has been getting prime airplay on urban contemporary stations around the nation. "If you ever see me at an event that size, I'll probably be onstage singing."
That's exactly what will happen in Druid Hill Park on Saturday, when the thoughtful, soft-spoken singer-songwriter takes his place on the eight-hour bill alongside nationally known artists including Jagged Edge; Carl Thomas; fellow Baltimore native Mario; and this year's headline act, the legendary "p-funk" outfit Parliament-Funkadelic.

Backed by three singers and four dancers who also live in Baltimore, Howard will perform two versions of his tune and other urban-contemporary love songs from his debut CD (also called The Other Side of the Bed), slated for release next month on the Global Entertainment label.

"Baltimore has heard the single," says Howard, 28, who lives and works in a sprawling home he bought in Windsor Mill last winter. "Now it's time they see me perform it. Stone Soul is my opportunity to show the town I'm here."

He'll have listeners aplenty. The free event drew 125,000 last year, and city officials expect a comparable crowd for the 16th version, which starts at noon and lasts until 8 p.m. As always, it will feature an ethnic marketplace, a bazaar for cultural foods and children's activities, in addition to the slate of big names and emerging local acts.

Radio One, a nationwide chain of radio stations targeted at African-American audiences, began sponsoring the event a decade and a half ago as a way of thanking listeners and it has grown steadily since. The picnic offers the same family-friendly mix of R&B, "old-school soul" and gospel the stations do.

"The closest to anything [profane] people will hear," says Tim Watts, station manager at Magic 95.9, an event organizer, "is when Parliament-Funkadelic sings, 'Tear the roof off the sucker.' You don't want to miss that.

"But I'm the gatekeeper, and this is and has always been a family-centered event first."

A few hundred fans arrive by 8 a.m. the day of the show, using blankets and lawn chairs to stake out territory near the stage. Others sit a long way off to listen, relax and people-watch. Many families, Watts says, hold reunions at the festival.

That's all fine with Howard, who found his calling growing up in a music-mad family. His father, a factory worker, was a guitarist and songwriter who once got a song on local radio. His brothers and sisters exposed Howard to a wide range of music, from church gospel to Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan.

Howard caught the performing bug at 5, when he sang and danced at church events. By his teens, he was spending hours studying the art of such vocalists as Stevie Wonder, Babyface and El Debarge -- "real singers," he calls them.

"Those are artists who have a genuine feel," says Howard, who enjoys working in solitude in his house's basement studio. "I've learned from that. I don't want to be a quick-hit singer. I'm after a unique sound -- and longevity."

For years, he made music for the Japanese and European markets. "The Other Side of the Bed," his first U.S. release, has struck a chord with R&B radio listeners from Alabama to New York, and he recently completed a video for the song with Chris Robinson, the famed director who has worked with Beyonce and Alicia Keys. It will start airing on MTV and BET next month.

"Things seem to be coming together," says Howard, who says he hopes to always live in Baltimore to be near his family -- and whose idea of getting away from it all is counseling foster children in the city. "It has been a lot of hard work."

As Howard exposes U.S. audiences to his silken vocals, his collection of original songs, and a style that nods to tradition while weaving in elements of the new, he might reflect as well as any artist the spirit of Stone Soul Picnic 2007. "Soul, R&B, gospel -- they're all strains in what I do," he says. "And home's where the heart is. You can make great music in Baltimore, Maryland."
- Baltimore Sun Paper; Jonathan Pitts 8/16/07


"Baltimore Magazine CD Review"

Devon Howard
Premonition (Global Entertainment)
On first listen, Baltimore's Devon Howard sounds like the second coming of Michael Jackson. He possesses the same smooth vocal style that's always welcome on the r&b/pop charts, and he infuses it with an urgency that's more sensual than primal. He comes across as the boy next door, like MJ did, before going "off the wall."


--- By John Lewis

- The Baltimore Magazine June 2008


"City Paper Calendar"

It's back: For 17 years the Stone Soul Picnic has taken over Druid Hill Park with a day's worth of African-American culture and positivity--and, you know it, great tunes to keep you in a festive mood. Regina Belle (of the 1989 smooth soul hit "Baby, Come to Me") and neo-soul man Eric Benét hold it down for the old(er)-school set, while some younger artists--such as Cheri Dennis and Jazmine Sullivan of the "Need U Bad" slow jam--bring some now-sound R&B to the stage. But the artist to watch is Baltimore's own Devon Howard, a young man with the good looks and even better voice to make a name for himself in contemporary R&B. If we're lucky, perhaps Paula Campbell will show up to sing her hook on Howard's "Yesterday." (Bret McCabe)

free. Druid Hill Park, Baltimore.

- The City Paper Aug 13 - 20th


Discography

* CD's released:

DIVERSITI - Global/EMI (USA)
Devon Howard - Urban Eclecticism AM Tracks Records (UK)
Devon Howard - About You BMFN Records (Japan)

* 'Other Side of the Bed' received over 2000 spins on Urban/AC radio including Sirius Satelite,

* Other songs to receive airplay:
Yesterday (featuring Paula Campbell)
The Christmas Song

* Heineken Music Intiative/ASCAP Grant winner in 2003 for Songwriting.

Photos

Bio

Straight out of Baltimore, Maryland, DEVON HOWARD is keeping it hot. As a singer, songwriter and producer he is a triple threat which places him way ahead of the game. DEVON is walking in the footsteps of some of the most recognized artists out today, who have all had an impact on his style. Baby Face, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, El DeBarge, Usher and Ne-Yo, all triple threats in their own right, he is influenced by new artists as well as the old.

DEVON has been writing songs since childhood. Inspired by his late father, who was also a songwriter, he grew up listening to his father’s collection: The Manhattans, The Stylistics, and The Commodores. DEVON got his start in the music industry performing with various groups and eventually wrote and performed with a local group who recorded their debut CD on Global/EMI. That group later dissolved and Devon went on to record and release music in Europe and Japan.

DEVON HOWARD is currently signed to indie label 313Entertainment Group. He’s already gaining the attention of some key people in the industry. One of those people is none other than Chris Robinson, one of the most sought after music video directors in the industry, who directed DEVON’s music video. The single “Other Side of the Bed” has received radio play in 16 markets across the country and on Music Choice and Sirius Satellite. The video is in rotation on VH1 Soul.

DEVON HOWARD is not just a nice guy with a sexy voice. He is the 2003 winner of the Heinekin / ASCAP Initiative for Songrwriting. He has performed the National Anthem at games for the Baltimore Orioles and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. Amidst his hectic schedule and all of his accomplishments DEVON HOWARD finds time to give back. He has been an advocate for foster children at Second Home Inc., for well over ten years. And recently put together a compilation CD featuring national and local recording artists to raise money for his newest endeavor, opening a day shelter for homeless youth and young adults. He has given donations to various charitable organizations including the Red Cross and America’s Harvest.

DEVON HOWARD is definitely one to keep your eye on. He is Baltimore’s best kept secret and soon the world will be introduced to this class act.