The Retirement We Weren’t Ready For: Frankie Beverly And Maze Take Their Final, Well-Earned Bow

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Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly & The Isley Brothers In Concert - Cedar Park, TX

Source: Gary Miller / Getty

On a hot June evening in 2011, Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly performed a free concert at Wingate Field in Brooklyn, NY. Halfway through the show, a joyous Beverly stopped to address the audience. 

“Oh, man. I am 64 years old,” Beverly said and was instantly met by thunderous applause. As the applause settled down, Beverly joked, “I want to retire but y’all keep buying tickets.” 

But last weekend, that last ticket was sold as Maze and Beverly reached the climax of their 2024 farewell “I Wanna Thank You Tour.” With shows in Philadelphia (July 6), Beverly’s native city, and at the Essence Fest in New Orleans (July 7), where Maze had been the closing act for decades, Beverly moved into retirement.

Essence Festival

Source: Paras Griffin / Getty

 Back in February, he’d told us he was going to, but when the final encore was done, it was still a shock. Who among us knew a world without Frankie Beverly and Maze performing? They were always there, with us. Their stature as musical legends had been secured well before the final tour even started. Stepping down to retire was almost impossible to conceive, but we had to. It was hard. Our relationship with Beverly and Maze wasn’t typical—nor was the way they’d earned their place in Black music history. 

How Do You Define a Musical Legend? 

Record sales can do it, some might say. Others would say success on the Billboard charts determines a musical legend. But using those benchmarks would mean leaving out Frankie Beverly and Maze.

They released only eight studio albums, all of them between 1977 and 1993. They have not dropped any new music in 31 years, and yet they commanded sold-out concerts all over the country during that time.

How? 

Seven of Maze’s eight studio albums went gold, but they have no platinum-certified albums or singles. Maze has no Grammy wins or nominations. While they did achieve nine top ten Billboard R&B singles, not one of their songs cracked the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100

Maze’s three signature songs are “Happy Feelin’s,” “Joy & Pain,” and “Before I Let Go.” The first two were never officially released singles, and “Before I Let Go” only reached No. 13 on the Billboard R&B charts.

So how can we define Maze and Frankie Beverly as absolutely legendary? Because there’s more to being a musical legend than numbers and stats. Beverly established a relationship with his audience, much like other artists Black musicians whose paths were atypical. These are the kinds of artists who possess a quiet charisma that doesn’t depend on shiny trophies and media attention to feel captivated to create something meaningful. 

They Did It Their Way

There’s Jimi Hendrix.

He is universally regarded as arguably the greatest, most innovative guitarist of all time. A true musical legend, by consensus. During his lifetime, thousands flocked to see him at festivals, like the Monterey Pop Fest, and Woodstock, due to his peerless guitar wizardry, his incredible compositions, and his infectious mystique. But if you only looked at his numbers, he could be seen as just being a one-hit wonder, as his 1968 single, All Along the Watchtower” was his only song to reach the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. None of his three studio albums achieved platinum status until decades after his death. 

Think about Stevie Wonder.

He is undoubtedly among the best musicians we’ve ever seen and has hits to back up his greatness. But not every classic can be measured by metrics. His 1982 single, “Ribbon in the Sky,” is among his most beloved ballads. But compared to other hits, it failed to reach the top 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. So why do thousands of fans scream every time he plays those first four piano notes of that tune at his concerts? It’s because Wonder has an uncanny way of injecting emotion into a song that causes the listener to see themselves in it.

Beverly has that same ability. 

Maze and Frankie Beverly cultivated and nourished their relationship with the audience slowly, carefully, and consistently with songs that mirrored the human condition, but through a melodic execution that inspired the audience to move, to smile, and to fellowship. 

Karen Bass Inaugurated As Mayor Of Los Angeles

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We Needed the Gospel According to Beverly

Black people are forced to go through a myriad of emotions each day, specifically because of our race. We hold in so much of the frustration, the anger, the sense of injustice we experience every time we hear of one more Black child killed by police, one more statistic about our legislatively imposed poverty. 

The only way to keep pushing forward without losing your mind is to be able to hold fast to hope, to the kind of faith that is borne of love, empathy, spirituality, reflection, and unity. Maze and Frankie Beverly gave us all of those things over the course of their five-decade career. They were the medicine we needed to get through life. 

And Beverly, Maze’s lone composer, mastered the overlooked aspect of songwriting required to reach many people: be profound but make it plain. Sure, it’s lovely to contemplate complex lyricism in music, but Beverly had a way with words that was no less effective.

From the song, “We Are One:’

Can’t understand why we treat each other in this way / Taking out the time with these silly, silly games we play /  We’ve got our love / And no matter how it’s said and done / We are one / No matter what we do, we are one / Our love will see us through / We are one

Beverly used his platform to speak with us most directly. He knew there was a time and place for everything and his creations reflected that. He asked why we hurt people for the sake of pride in “Too Many Games.” He pondered whether or not the ecstasy of a one-night stand would be worth the emotional aftermath in his song,  “The Morning After.” He revealed the unavoidable duality of life with “Joy & Pain.” 

And he honored the memory of his mentor Marvin Gaye with “Silky Soul,singing:

There was a man I knew /  Who was smooth as smooth can be / His music his smile / And his sweet sweet melody / Do you recall that mentor / And the voice with the velvet touch /I’ll never forget how he moved us all so much

Beverly was so present with us, so intentional. He tapped into the heart of our emotions, wants and needs.

And despite a thin catalog, people came back year after year—the way they do for Lauryn Hill despite her having only one studio album (and reputation for tardiness).

Lauryn Hill

Source: SGranitz / Getty

Maze’s songs and Beverly’s voice represent an ongoing truth for us, our ongoing truth. And they represented that hope we are so desperate for in such a harsh, angry period. And that’s rare.

Black music today resembles old school music much less leaving us hungry for the positivity brought by artists like Frankie Beverly and Maze. They are our safe harbor, our touchstone when we need messages of hope and peace more than ones that remind us why we’re hurt and angry. 

So join me in saying, Salute! to Frankie Beverly and Maze for an amazing run. You long ago earned the right to relax and reminisce in your golden time of life.

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