Starting October 13th, one of the year's most impressive double bills will touch down in Europe, as Mary J. Blige and Maxwell embark on the King and Queen of Hearts Tour. Both artists first encountered success in the Nineties, and they continue to probe the inner workings of romantic relationships and transmit their findings to listeners two decades later.
"This is a dream come true for me to be alongside her and pay homage to the Queen of Hearts," Maxwell tells Rolling Stone. "I'm like, 'Wow, we get to do this.'" Maxwell released blackSUMMERS'night in July, and he has hinted that more music may arrive next year; Blige is two years removed from The London Sessions, but she's "on her way to finishing" the follow-up and plans to tease a couple of new songs on the road. "We get to launch new music talking about where we are in our lives," Maxwell says. "And do it from the heart."
Today, the two NYC-born singers announced the American leg of the tour, which starts November 5th in Baltimore and wraps up December 14th in Chicago. (See full list of dates below.) Rolling Stone spoke with both singers on the phone about their shared history, their plans to duet on the road and more.
How did the idea for this tour come about?
Maxwell: I'm a huge fan of Mary – the voice, everything. She's from the neighborhood, the city that I was born in. Watching her succeed and rise has always been inspirational for me. I met her at an awards show where she was so gracious to me that it blew my mind. You have to understand that three weeks before that, I was a busboy. Now Mary's walking over to me and going, "I love your work, keep going." This is the first year of my career. I have a really good memory for kindness.
All the years we've seen each other, and she and I have been trying to get this to come together. The clincher was us sitting in front of each other and her knowing my heart and seeing that I genuinely respect and care about what she's doing. I feel like maybe it's mutual because she was so well-aware of so many of the things that I've done.
I'm excited. This is not some business deal. So many of these tours are orchestrated, but this is actually a thing that we wanted to do. We're part of each other's teams. She came up with the title of the tour, and it's perfect. There are a lot of other titles that were floating around that were like, "Give me a break." She was like, "Why don't you just call it the King and Queen of Hearts Tour?" It's like, "Bam! Done." Whatever you need. It speaks of who she is, the humility, and that she knows marketing. As artists, we speak to the hearts of people. Love is the message. And as Mary would say, love is all we need. And that's what we're here to give.
"This is not some business deal. So many of these tours are orchestrated, but this is actually a thing that we wanted to do." –Maxwell
Mary, where did the title come from?
Blige: I came up with the title from understanding that is who we are. It's not rocket science. Maxwell has been speaking to the hearts of women and men ever since he came out. That's why I'm a fan. I need to be moved in order to respect you on the level that I respect Maxwell. He moves me. I've been doing the same thing with my fans for years. He's the king at what he does, I'm the king at what I do. This is no ego, and we're not being arrogant – this is being sure, because we've been doing this for so long that we can say we're the King and Queen of Hearts. It's easy.
Do you remember saying hi to Maxwell at that awards show in the Nineties?
Blige: I do.
Maxwell: You do?
Blige: I do.
Maxwell: Awww, I remember that so well. You don't understand. It made my life and day. It was literally like, "She knows me."
Blige: The beauty about stories like these is that you get to see exactly who you are based on somebody else's experience with you. We don't always remember everything. But I always hear stories just like this one. I love people. You can be a new artist, an old artist, but if you're doing something that moves me, I have to say, "Wow, well done, keep rocking, keep doing what you're doing."
Maxwell: It says a lot about you Mary. I've always been a proponent of supporting other artists. I went on the road with Ro James; he's got the illest falsetto I've heard in a long time. I don't feel threatened when somebody is doing something that moves you. We're here to help each other. We all have been inspired by someone before us. It's all about sharing the wealth and creating a positive experience — not only for African-American music and soul singers, but for music in general. This pie is big. We can all exist and flourish in the world of soul.
Think about what we had in the days of Motown: There were so many badass people making music at the same time. But creativity has become a spectator sport for people, and people have to create beefs where beefs aren't even existing. You'd be surprised how many of us support each other. Politics and people are very different. I'm just so happy that Mary has always been that way, and there's no one that can say any different. I'm grateful that we're getting to celebrate the spirit of soul music and share it with the world.
I always look at it this way: Creativity is a contribution not a competition. An apple is an apple; an orange is an orange; they're both great. When we get down, it's just going to be about having a good time and giving the audience what they need. We are servants of soul to them. They come to see us, and they look at us, like, wow! But we look at them like, "Yo, thank you for coming!" My question every night before the show is "Is anyone coming up? You're sure they're gonna show up, right?" I don't take it for granted.
Blige: You can't take it for granted.
"I need to be moved in order to respect you on the level that I respect Maxwell." –Blige
Are you both bringing bands out or sharing a band?
Blige: We're both bringing bands.
Maxwell: Mary's got her band, they know her flow. Your band knows what you mean when you look here, the sound guy knows what you mean when you want to pause or put a mute on something. I've been out here oiling the engine and getting the machine tight with the last summer of shows that I've recently done. I'm excited. It's gonna be a soul-fest party-celebration. Anything can go down; duets can pop off. At the end of the day, Mary's got so many hits – it's like, please. You're gonna be alright. She's in this incredible place in her career.
For me, having this 20th anniversary with Urban Hang Suite, I hear those songs and it's like road signs in this road of wherever you've been. To be able to share the stage with someone who has surpassed what I've done, it just gives me so much confidence to continue on this journey of making more music.
So you are planning some duets?
Maxwell: We're gonna pull it together. We're not even at the rehearsal stage right now. But this is a family affair, as far as I am concerned.
Do you guys do any writing on the road?
Maxwell: When the greatest news of my life came in that I was going to actually finally get this thing off my bucket list, which is touring with Mary, I was like I'm definitely going to be recording [on the road]. Every night when I see this legendary – wow! – person do her thing, I'm going to be buzzing with creativity.
And time is precious. We've lost so many people this year. It just hit me, like, "Wow, Max, you need to really push now. Be as creative as you can be. There's only a few out there now who are doing it." Mary's always been very prolific. I'm the one who's, like, seven years from now you'll see me. But now I see it's time to take full action on the blessings that have been given me.
Will fans get to hear anything new from either of you?
Mary: Just a couple songs to give everybody a taste.
Maxwell: I know for me, when I go on the road before an album comes out, I have a really good perspective on the album I'm about to release. I get to see in real time what a new song feels like to the audience. There's nothing like the live experience. The studio is what it is – you're there, you have all this time to perfect whatever you want to perfect. It's your last chance to put it out the way it's going to be out forever and ever. But when you go out live, it's such an improvisational, in-the-moment experience. When you can marry the two – pun intended, when you can Mary the two – it can be quite powerful.
The King and Queen of Hearts U.S. Tour Dates
November 5 – Baltimore, MD @ Royal Farms Arena
November 6 – Washington, DC @ Verizon Center
November 9 – Philadelphia, PA @ Wells Fargo Center
November 10 – New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
November 12 – St. Louis, MO @ Scottrade Center
November 14 – Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
November 16 – Cleveland, OH @ Quicken Loans Arena
November 18 – Detroit, MI @ The Palace of Auburn Hills
November 19 – Indianapolis, IN @ Bankers Life Fieldhouse
November 20 – Memphis, TN @ FedEx Forum
November 22 – Charlotte, NC @ Time Warner Cable Arena
November 23 – Richmond, VA @ Richmond Coliseum
November 25 – Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
November 26 – Greensboro, NC @ Greensboro Coliseum
November 29 – Miami, FL @ AmericanAirlines Arena
December 1 – New Orleans, LA @ Smoothie King Center
December 2 – Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center
December 3 – Houston, TX @ Toyota Center
December 6 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum
December 7 – Oakland, CA @ Oracle Arena
December 9 – Las Vegas, NV @ T-Mobile Arena
December 11 – Bossier City, LA @ CenturyLink Center
December 12 – Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
December 14 – Chicago, IL @ United Center