'Chicago Idol' winner bringing 'neo-soul' to Urbana

'Chicago Idol' winner bringing 'neo-soul' to Urbana

URBANA — Chicago vocalist Maurice Mahon performed in Tyler Perry's first gospel-music plays. Mahon also sings backup for R. Kelly.

And in 2003, Mahon won first place in the "Chicago Idol" contest.

Mahon continues to work with other artists but in 2008 founded the group New Face of Soul, made up of sidemen for some of the best entertainers around.

Mahon will bring New Face of Soul to Urbana on Saturday night. It will be a seven-piece version of the band, including a horn section, he said.

"This particular show I'm going to do a lot of the Motown old goodies, dusties and a couple of originals. It's going to be fun," he said.

Mahon grew up in Chicago listening to Motown and other music he misses hearing on the radio and live today. That's one reason he formed the New Face of Soul.

"A lot of music has gotten lost in general, because the newer producers don't play it a lot," he said. "What I try to do with New Face of Soul is be an extension of the old groups. We're just doing it in a newer version. It's been called neo-soul or Motown."

Mahon actually likened New Face of Soul to the Average White Band, a Scottish funk and R&B band that put out soul and disco hits in the '70s.

"I used to love their music," Mahon said. "They were soul, but it was grooving. When I was younger, I appreciated that music and the music of the '80s, watching MTV."

Mahon, 46, is the lead vocalist for New Face of Soul but sometimes picks up the harmonica. He also plays the drums and keyboards.

But he has owned a boutique, too, and is a barber by trade.

"I still do that on the side when I can," he said. "I'm so busy singing now, I don't do the barbering as much. Whenever I'm on tour, I'm the barber, cutting R. Kelly's hair and other artists' hair before we go on stage.

"I tell my son everyday: 'You never know what might happen, so keep your trade.' "

It doesn't seem Mahon has to worry. He has become a presence on the Chicago music scene. After he won "Chicago Idol," Kelly wrote and produced for Mahon the single "Closer," which made the Billboard Top 100 R&B chart.

Mahon began touring with Kelly and has appeared on stage with Kelly Price, Kim Burrell, Angie Stone, Christopher Williams, Dave Hollister and Angela Martin. After the Urbana show, he will finish up a New Face of Soul CD and take the band on the road.

He also acts. His breakthrough role, he said, came in 1999 when he appeared as the lead in a Tyler Perry gospel-music play. He's also appeared in other shows, among them "The Wiz" and "Issues: We All Got 'em."

His cousin, Willie Brownlee, a show promoter in Champaign, put together the New Face of Soul show in Urbana, to come after Champaign-Urbana Days on Friday and Saturday at Douglass Park.

While Mahon has never performed officially in Champaign-Urbana, he has been here for a family reunion — the next day, he sang at a church here.

"I'm really looking forward to the show in Urbana," he said.

If you go

What: Willie Brownlee Productions presents Champaign-Urbana Days Old School Jam, featuring Chicago-based Maurice Mahon and New Face of Soul, followed by tunes spun by DJ Master Blaster

When: 8 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. next Sunday

Where: Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center, 1001 W. Killarney St., U

Admission: $12 per person