Honoring Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds
In December of 2002, our guest of honor, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, spoke in Indianapolis at a conference of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. Mr. Edmonds told the attendees that, as a young man growing up in the city, he drew inspiration from those who told him that he could not achieve a particular goal. Rather than letting naysayers discourage him, he was defiant, and determined to prove them wrong.
This sense of determination has served him well throughout his extremely accomplished career in the music industry.
This determination—and his creativity—were also on display at an early age.
When he was in the sixth grade, he attended his first concert—by the Jackson 5—at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum. Though his seats were high and behind the stage, he was moved and impressed by the ability of the band to engage the crowd. He knew then that he wanted a career in music.
Two years later, he read in the newspaper that The Jackson 5 were returning to Indianapolis to perform. He decided that this time he would try to meet the Jacksons. He read in the paper that the name of the concert promoter was Charles Williams. So, he called every Charles Williams in the Indianapolis phone book until he found the right one. Pretending to be his English teacher, and, using his best Jimmy Stewart impersonation, he convinced Mr. Williams that it would be a wonderful idea for an eighth-grade reporter to interview the young members of the Jackson 5. And, of course, he had just the reporter in mind—a young man by the name of Kenny Edmonds.
Mr. Williams agreed, and at the appointed time, Mr. Edmonds went to the hotel in which the Jacksons were staying—and interviewed the members of the group.1,2 He would of, of course, later work closely with the Jacksons, co-writing songs with Michael, and co-producing and writing an album for Jermaine.
Success as a performer, songwriter, and producer
Mr. Edmonds soon began gaining years of invaluable experience performing in bands in what was a vibrant Indianapolis music scene.
When he was 13, he started his first band, Tarnished Silver.
He played for a time in the backup band of funk music pioneer Bootsy Collins, who was a guest here on the Bloomington campus earlier this year. In fact, it was Bootsy Collins who gave Mr. Edmonds the nickname "Babyface."
After graduating from North Central High School, Mr. Edmonds joined the Indianapolis-based R&B group, Manchild, which had a hit with the song, "Especially for You" in 1977.
In 1983, he joined the Cincinnati-based band, The Deele, which had a number of top-ten singles.
Mr. Edmonds and fellow band member of The Deele, L.A. Reid, began producing and writing for other artists on the side. In 1989, they founded LaFace Records, which, as I mentioned, launched platinum careers for a number of performers.
Mr. Edmonds also realized early on that in order to achieve his goals, it would be important to closely study the practices and techniques of successful songwriters and musicians. And so, as a young, aspiring artist, he listened critically to all manner of popular music—from Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire to James Taylor and Paul McCartney—in an attempt to learn how experienced songwriters crafted lyrics and melodies, so that he would be prepared when his opportunity presented itself.
As a songwriter, Mr. Edmonds has written or co-written hits for Johnny Gill, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Madonna, and many others. The recording by Boyz II Men of his song "End of the Road"—co-written with L.A. Reid and longtime collaborator Daryl Simmons, who is also from Indianapolis and who is with us today—became one of the longest-running number one songs in pop music history.
His own success as a solo recording artist has included multiple hit songs, multi-platinum albums, and sold-out concerts around the world.
His legendary status as a producer was recognized with three consecutive Grammy Awards for Producer of the Year from 1995 to 1997, and Mr. Edmonds was ranked number 20 on New Music Express list of the 50 Greatest Producers Ever.
In 1997, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential people in America.
Mr. Edmonds is also part of a legacy of Hoosiers who have achieved success in Hollywood. He produced and wrote soundtracks for a number of independent films, including Soul Food, which starred fellow Indianapolis native, Vivica Fox.
Mr. Edmonds is part of a great tradition of Indianapolis musicians who made an enormous impact on American music in the 20th century, including blues singer/songwriter Leroy Carr, bandleader and lyricist Noble Sissle, and a myriad of jazz greats, including Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, and the late IU Distinguished Professor David Baker.
On behalf of Indiana University, we are very pleased to welcome him today and to honor his distinguished career as an example for Indiana University students of the importance of dedication, determination, and hard work in pursuit of one's passion, and as an example of all they can achieve.
1. Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, "Babyface Discusses Working with Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, and Daniel Caesar," For the Record, YouTube video, Uploaded June 28, 2018, Accessed October 13, 2018, URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFoKMbhH9xw.