Remember when Toni Braxton announced in 2013 that she was taking a long hiatus from singing because she wasn’t inspired by music anymore? Well, she changed her mind, and she’s back in a big way. Her duets album with singer/songwriter/producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds — “Love, Marriage & Divorce” — was a big hit when it debuted on the R&B charts February 2014. It’s one of many of their successful collaborations that date back to the 1990s, including the songs “Give U My Heart,” “You Mean the World to Me” and “You’re Makin’ Me High” And now, Braxton and Babyface are teaming up on Broadway with guest starring roles in the musical “After Midnight” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City. “After Midnight,” which is based on the 2011 revue “Cotton Club Parade,” takes place in 1920s/1930s Harlem, and features jazz pieces by Duke Ellington, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields and Harold Arlen.
Braxton and Babyface will appear in “After Midnight” from March 18 to March 30, 2014. On March 13, 2014, I caught up with Grammy winners Braxton and Babyface for this exclusive interview during an “After Midnight” media event at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Cameras from Braxton’s reality show “Braxton Family Values” filmed the beginning of the interview until Braxton shooed the camera people away because she thought the camera filming was too distracting. I didn’t sign a release form, so I don’t think this footage will end up on TV, but I got to see firsthand how the cameras from the reality show follow Braxton pretty much everywhere, and she does have a say on what can be filmed or not. Here is what Braxton and Babyface said my interview with them.
What’s your earliest memory of Duke Ellington?
Babyface: My dad used to play Duke Ellington, so there would be a lot of his music in our household. And Duke Ellington, he worked with so many people, when you listen to a number of artists, you also listen to Duke. It was one of those things where I always like watching movies from that time period. It was always special to me. When I first saw “After Midnight,” I thought it was an amazing show. I’m happy to be a part of it.
What’s your favorite Duke Ellington song or what are you most looking forward to performing in “After Midnight”?
Braxton: I’m looking forward to doing the duet that Kenny and I do together. “Stormy Weather” is one of my favorite songs. We get to sing it together, but I think people are going to be waiting for us to sing “Hurt You” and see us on stage on stage together.
Your duets album “Love, Marriage & Divorce” was released in February 2014, one month before you two are starring in “After Midnight”? Was that timing deliberately planned? At what point did you know that you were going to be in “After Midnight”?
Babyface: It was a coincidence. We got the call. We’d heard about the play and that Wynton Marsalis was involved. [Broadway] is old hat for Toni. I mentioned to her that they might want us to do this play, and she said, “Hmm. Maybe.”
She didn’t really know if she wanted to do Broadway again anytime soon. I didn’t know if I cold do it at all, but I thought it would be fun, and they asked us so early on, that the truth is that we thought our album would’ve already been out. Our album came out much later than we originally thought it would.
Braxton: It worked out.
You’ve worked together for many years. What was the most challenging thing about doing a duets album together?
Braxton: Scheduling was a little challenging sometimes, because we were both working on other projects when we came together. He was actually working on getting me back into the music business, so that was a project all by itself.
Will we be seeing any of the recording of “Love, Marriage & Divorce” on “Braxton Family Values”?
Kenny, how did you feel about being on Toni’s reality show?
Babyface: Usually, when I’ve done reality shows, I go to their world, but they don’t usually come to my world. Since Toni comes to my world, she brings her extended family.
Braxton: Everything! [She laughs.]
Babyface: They’re always there. It’s like, “Here they go. There they are.”
Did you think “Braxton Family Values” would be on the air for as long as it has been?
Braxton: I knew that my sisters have so much personality together that I knew it would be engaging and people would like it, because we try to show the side of us that shows we’re like everybody else. All families are the same.
Babyface: There are no families like the Braxtons.
Braxton: You don’t think there are families like ours?
Babyface: Maybe, but not quite the same.
Braxton: I get people saying, “Oh, I have a sister like that” or “I have a cousin like that.”
Babyface: That’s what it’s unique. It’s not a normal family.
Toni, you have an autobiography coming out in 2014 called “Unbreak My Heart: A Memoir.” What’s the biggest advice you can give to any celebrity who wants to write a memoir?
Braxton: It can be tough. You think, “I can do this. I can write about my life.” But once you see it in black and white, it’s different. It comes to life. I have to try to be careful not to try to tell other people’s stories on top of telling my story. That was the hardest part for me to do.
Toni, since you’ve been on Broadway before, did you give Kenny any advice?
Braxton: I didn’t have to give him any advice. He’s great.
For someone who knows nothing about “After Midnight,” what will you both bring to the show that is unique and would convince people to see this show?
Babyface: If anything, we bring honesty when we sing. We’re going for it, and we’re giving it everything we’ve got. That’s all we can do. It’s a very honest performance. No matter what it is, I can promise you, if nothing else, it is honest.
For more info: "After Midnight" website