“I feel overwhelmed today,” Adam Blackstone candidly replies after being asked how he is feeling. It’s one of the aspects of being an in-demand musical director. The Emmy winner has worked with some of the biggest entertainers, such as Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Jill Scott, Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj, to name a few.
Blackstone’s calendar of upcoming events includes Jeezy’s concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Jan. 27), Rihanna’s Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show performance (Feb. 12), and the NBA All-Star Game (Feb. 19).
Blackstone is no stranger to the Super Bowl. He was the musical director for the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Starring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent, which landed him an Emmy for Outstanding Musical Direction.
Before that, he was the MD the Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show featuring Shakira and J-Lo, and arranged the National Anthem at Super Bowl LV with Jazmine Sullivan and Eric Church.
“I am balancing Super Bowl along with Ari Lennox’s tour, along with Jeezy being in Atlanta during the symphony, along with Grammy week — and the hopes and dreams of me winning the trophy,” he shares.
Blackstone, who released his debut album Legacy last September, is nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 65th Grammy Awards for “‘Round Midnight” featuring Sullivan. It’s Blackstone’s first solo Grammy nomination. (He previously received a Grammy nod for Best R&B Song for co-writing Musiq Soulchild’s 2007 hit “Teachme.”)
Although Blackstone has a lot on his plate, including supporting Jill Scott on her upcoming tour, he is grateful for everything.
“It’s such a blessing. Music has taken me all over the world [and has] given me hopes and dreams that I never could have imagined,” says Blackstone. “I wouldn’t want any other job in the world. I’m thankful for the opportunities, gifts and blessings God has bestowed upon me.”
In Rated R&B’s interview with Adam Blackstone, the award-winning musical director/artist talks about his debut album, his legacy and his experience preparing for Rihanna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show performance.
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The first instrument that you picked up was the drums, which you played in church. You later moved on to the bass guitar, then upright bass. What inspired the change in instruments?
Such a funny story, man. I think every African American child, specifically a musician wanting to grow up in church, wants to play the drums. When I moved to my rural town of Willingboro, New Jersey, the band director who knew my family as musicians — my dad’s a musician and my mom sang in the choir and her family had a rich history in music locally — said, “Listen. I got 14 drummers and zero bass players. What can we do to have you switch?” And I was like, “Nah, I don’t want to do that. I’m a drummer.” He instilled in me that the bass was really the foundation and the root for all the harmonic structures. I made the choice to switch in second grade, and I’ve been full throttle ever since.
You released your debut album, Legacy, last September. What was your experience creating that project on top of everything else you had going on as a musical director?
I would describe it as a labor of love from all parts. We went through this pandemic… I lost some people — some friends, a cousin. And what I didn’t want to do was leave this Earth with a laptop full of ideas. I decided to buckle down [for about] 40 days and make this record. I put some phone calls out to some people that I have hopefully impacted in their music careers and their legacy. They returned the favor so fast. From Mary Mary to Kirk Franklin to Queen Latifah to Jill [Scott] to Robert Glasper, to so many others in my entire band and crew. That let me know that relationship equity is such a great thing.
All you have is your integrity. All you have to do is to be nice and humble because you never know when you’re going to need somebody. These people on my album came through for me and here we are now, Grammy-nominated, NAACP [Image] Award-nominated. I’m so thankful, man. I did this for my children to leave something behind for them and my family, but it ended up impacting the world.
Speaking of the Grammys, you scored your first solo Grammy nomination with “’Round Midnight” with Jazmine Sullivan. How does it feel to receive this sort of recognition for your first album?
Man, I have to tell you, I won an Emmy last year for best musical direction. And I had said this with all humility, the halftime last year was going to be great no matter what. I was hired to do a job. The Emmy, to me, just validates that. Other people thought it was a great job as well. I was always going to do my best. But this Grammy nomination feels so personal and like a bigger accomplishment. I’ve been dreaming about that trophy since I was seven years old. I’ve been a part of many Grammy Award-winning albums and songs, but never as myself as the artist. And it just hits different man. I’m so thankful.
You’ll be joining Jill Scott on tour this spring to support Legacy. You’ve mentioned as a musical director, your goal is always to help the artists tell some sort of story through their set. With you opening the show, what story do you plan to tell?
Oh man, that’s a good question. That might have been the best question I got all year, bro. I want people to know that music has power — to feel it, sit in it, bask in it [and] to be present. That’s one thing I didn’t do in my thirties. I think I was moving so fast that I didn’t get to enjoy the moments. And so my music is going to be a bit calming. It’s going to make you dance. It’s going to make you feel. It’s going to make you laugh and make you love. It might even make you cry a little bit, but the overall experience is for you to be present and enjoy the ride that the music is going to do. And then to maybe even think about your own legacy and what you’re leaving here on this earth. I think that’s the story I’m going to tell.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be that Adam Blackstone was a great character/person, a man of integrity and a man of core value that happened to be an excellent musician. And I was able to impact the world, not only with my gift, but also with seeing others win by helping others. My legacy, specifically even for this album, is about how I’ve helped people and they were able to help me back with this record. I think that’s what I want my legacy to be: a good father, good husband, always striving to be a better person and showing up for people.
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You are the musical director for Apple Music’s Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show starring Rihanna. This isn’t your first time working with her. You were the MD for her 777 Tour in 2012, her Diamonds World Tour, her Savage X Fenty shows, etc. How would you compare your experience preparing for the halftime show to when you two first worked together?
Listen, that’s an easy answer: She is a super-duper-ruper-star right now. I think that she believed in herself 10 years ago, but she also took musical direction very well and continues to do that. She is very self-assured about what she wants. As an MD, I think it is our job to bring the artist’s vision to light. She has so much more clarity and vision now to be the ‘anti’ person she is, no pun intended. And to be the visionary that she is with Fenty Beauty, and now with her music, it’s always pushing the envelope. She’s standing in her superstardom now in a whole different way. She’s wearing that cape proudly. We are happy to support her in her Super Bowl endeavors. I think we’re going to really impress the world.
What makes a great musical director?
Humility, vision [and] creativity. Being a listener and not always having to lead. Sometimes being a follower, knowing that you have the final say, but you have to do what’s best for everybody. Lastly, believing in yourself. People are going to look at you for the answers musically or not. So, knowing that you are grounded, you’ve put in the work to trust your own gut, whether that be behind your instrument or just creativity in general, believe in yourself and you can go as far as you want to go.
You’re in high demand. How do you decide on which music direction gigs you book?
I’ve been saying ‘yes’ to everything for a long time. What I’m doing now is prioritizing myself. I’m definitely saying, “How does this impact me? How does this gig, opportunity or moment impact Legacy to further it?” As opposed to just being the guy to make other people’s stuff hot. I think it’s time for all of us to pour back into ourselves. Tomorrow is not promised and it’s time to create our own legacy.
Stream Adam Blackstone’s Legacy album below.