Musicians Brian McKnight and sons

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R&B singer-songwriter and his sons talk about the family business.

Brian McKnight is not only a singer, but also a talented writer, musician, producer and arranger. Known for his romantic ballads, he's proficient on nine instruments, including keyboards, guitar and trumpet. His music is rooted in gospel and jazz, the genres he listened to as a child in a musical family—an older brother is a member of the vocal group Take 6—and that tradition is being carried on by his sons, singer Brian Jr. and guitarist-singer Cole Nicholas. “Ten” is McKnight's latest CD.


Tavis: Father’s Day is, of course, this weekend, and in advance of that I am pleased to welcome Brian McKnight back to this program – but not by himself. With his two sons, Brian Jr., known as BJ, and Cole Nicholas, who goes by Niko. The three have been out on tour this spring following the success of Brian McKnight’s most recent CD – bam, there it is – “Ten.”

In just a moment, they’ll perform – all three of them, in fact – a song from the new CD. But first, Brian, BJ, Niko, nice to have you on the program.

Brian McKnight: Good to be here.

Tavis: How you doing, Brian?

BJ McKnight: Good to see you again.

Tavis: It’s my first time actually meeting your sons.

Brian McKnight: Yes.

Tavis: Read about them, heard about them, knew they existed, but I’d never met them before. Did not know that they had some of that Brian McKnight talent.

Brian McKnight Well it’s not Brian McKnight talent. My mother’s family is the Willis family, and these guys represent the sixth generation that I’ve seen that they’re gifted and passed down. But the way the story goes, after slavery there were minstrels that went around and sang and performed, and my family was one of the groups of those minstrels. (Laughter)

And that’s sort of where this thing began, in the middle of the 1800s, and this is the – what are you looking at?

BJ McKnight: What are you talking about? (Laughter) (Unintelligible) know this?

Brian McKnight: No, slavery – (cross talk.) Every family reunion, we gonna talk about this.

BJ McKnight: I ain’t never heard nothing about no slaves.

Brian McKnight: Well, you’re not paying attention because you’re on your computer, (laughter) and talking to all your friends.

BJ McKnight: Exactly. Exactly. I don’t pay attention.

Brian McKnight: (Unintelligible.)

BJ McKnight: I don’t –

Brian McKnight: See what I have to deal with, man? (Laughter) 2007.

BJ McKnight: Don’t pay attention to the slaves. I don’t wanna know.

Brian McKnight: All those books in the fifties that taught you about parenting, you can throw those out. (Laughter) Throw them out.

Tavis: And I’m supposed to moderate this thing. (Laughter) For the next eight minutes. That said, on a serious tip, though, what do you make – and I want to talk to them in a second – but what do you make of the fact that for all these generations of your family, this thing called music has gone all down through the family line?

Brian McKnight: Well, I didn’t really understand what it was like for our parents to see my brothers and I and my other 20 first cousins that we all have this gift. So when they started singing – BJ at one in his car seat in back of the car, he’s singing along with Whitney Houston, right in the key. And I’m like man, here it is again.

‘Cause I don’t remember when I started, because I was too young. But to see everything that you have as a person passed down through the genes to your children, it’s just an amazing thing to be a parent. It’s probably the greatest job on the planet.

Tavis: So Niko, you play guitar, which they will see here in just a second.

Niko McKnight: Yes, I do.

Tavis: Your daddy taught you this, or you taught yourself?

Niko McKnight: No, he didn’t teach me anything. (Laughter)

Tavis: Nothing at all, huh? He didn’t teach me anything.

Niko McKnight: Well, he taught me my first chords. I’ll give him that. He taught me my first chords, but he didn’t teach me. (Laughter) I did that on my own.

Tavis: So you’re kind of self-taught here. Why the guitar? What made you pick up that particular instrument? Lead guitar, at that.

Niko McKnight: Lead. Well, lead guitar, acoustic, anything that has to do with guitar, I play it or want to play it. Guitar ’cause, well, rock music was my – like, my thing. So drums was my first.

Tavis: Yeah, I see the t-shirt. Yeah, we’re checking this out.

Niko McKnight: Drums was my first thing, but I didn’t really pay attention to drums. But guitar, I don’t know, it just – I wanted to play guitar, so I played guitar. He got me my first guitar.

Brian McKnight: I think it was important as parents when your children start showing an interest in something to expose them to it, if you have the opportunity to. And whatever they naturally gravitate towards, then, if you support them, then they’ll do it. If he would have gotten his guitars and didn’t play, at least I gave him the opportunity when he said he wanted to. But man, this dude has taken it to another level.

Tavis: So BJ, you, as the artist, we’ll see here in a moment, sing. Your brother plays guitar and sings, of course, but you sound so much like your father. Are you tired of hearing that already, or is that a compliment.

BJ McKnight: Yeah, I guess it’s a compliment, him being who he is. (Laughter) But I’ve always thought I sing better than him, personally. So. No, but yeah, I take it as a compliment. I’ve kind of gotten used to it now. Everywhere I go, and if I do happen to sing, oh, you sound just like your dad. I guess it’s pretty much what it’s going to be, just ’cause.

Over, like, the last – ’cause I’ve been producing and doing my own stuff for six years now, and just recently these last maybe two I’ve started branching out and finding my own thing. So I may sing like him, but the way we write – I rip him off a whole lot, but we –

Tavis: Not a bad person to rip off.

BJ McKnight: Right. And I try to do a lot of other things. Like, especially with him, we do a lot of rock stuff, country stuff. I’ve got a couple of bluegrass songs I’m working on. No, I’m just kidding.

Tavis: I was going to say, the McKnight family does bluegrass, too?

BJ McKnight: No, so it shouldn’t be difficult, but we’ll see, I guess.

Tavis: So one of the other similarities between you and your dad aside from the look – so you’ve got the sound, you’ve got the look, and I’m told that you play basketball, and I’m certain you play that much better than your father.

BJ McKnight: Well, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah. Well, yeah. (Laughter)

BJ McKnight: (Unintelligible.)

Brian McKnight: Hey, wait, hold on. Hold on.

Tavis: You want to start –

Brian McKnight: Hold on. Hold on.

Tavis: You want to start a family fight with brothers, just say that one of them plays ball – I’ve got seven brothers, I know how this fight goes. So I’m out of this now, but you go ahead, Brian.

Brian McKnight: As good as he is, ask him how many times he’s beat me. Ask him.

Tavis: BJ? You wanna respond to that?

BJ McKnight: All right, well, see, this is what happened.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) See, what happen was – go ahead, BJ.

BJ McKnight: What happens is I may win the first two, and then he’ll get all mad and then he’ll start playing for real. And he’s a lot stronger than I am, so there’s not much I can do about it after that.

Tavis: I got it.

BJ McKnight: But I’ll give him one.

Brian McKnight: Win the first two? Win the first two?

BJ McKnight: The first two, ’cause – (Laughter)

Brian McKnight: Win the first two.

BJ McKnight: I’m quick.

Brian McKnight: Is that what he said?

Tavis: I thought that’s what I heard. I thought he said he won the first two. (Cross talk)

Brian McKnight: – playing a seven-game series, ’cause in order to win, you gotta win four out of seven. He may win one. I think the most he’s got is two, matter of fact. But he has to get over the fact that I know him. I know what he can do; I know what he doesn’t want to do.

Tavis: But he (unintelligible) about you, he knows his dad’s game.

Brian McKnight: No, I can do it all.

Tavis: You can do it all, though.

Brian McKnight: I can do it all.

BJ McKnight: He can shoot.

Brian McKnight: I can shoot it. (Laughter) So at the end of the day, and I run off five, six, seven in a row, (unintelligible) the seventh. So if you miss, the game is over.

Tavis: You up to seven games now, which means he must be coming on strong if it takes you seven games to win a series.

BJ McKnight: Exactly.

Brian McKnight: No, no, I win four quick.

Tavis: He said, “Exactly.”

Brian McKnight: Win four quick.

BJ McKnight: But it’s not easy, though.

Brian McKnight: It’s not easy, ’cause he’s real good. And I want him to be real good. But the day he beats me is the day I stop.

Tavis: So here’s a question, BJ. What sounds better, girls screaming at a basketball game, or girls screaming in concert?

BJ McKnight: Being that I’ve experienced both –

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

BJ McKnight: I don’t know, after being on tour, I have to say girls screaming at a concert.

Tavis: So let me guess then that the music may be a little more important to you right about now than the basketball.

BJ McKnight: Yeah, although I played ball yesterday for five hours straight. So, but yeah, music is primary.

Tavis: Yeah, okay. So Brian, tell me about this song that you’re about to perform for us.

Brian McKnight: Well, the song’s called “The Rest of My Life.” It’s a typical Brian McKnight wedding kind of song. And then on tour this year, we did a medley where I showed everyone in the audience that these guys were the next generation and we all start singing barbershop quartet type music. And we start off that way, then we do two of my other songs, and then we finish with this particular song that we’re going to do.

Tavis: Yeah, okay. (Laughter) As he elbows his son.

BJ McKnight: (Unintelligible.)

Tavis: I love this. Brian McKnight and BJ and Niko, up next a special performance from this new CD. The new CD, by the way, is called “Ten,” as if you didn’t know. It’s already selling. Brian, nice to have you here.

Brian McKnight: Nice to be here.

Tavis: BJ, nice to have you here. And Niko, keep doing your thing.

Niko McKnight: I will.

Tavis: Yeah, I know you will. (Laughter)

BJ McKnight: Hold on, man.

Tavis: The performance coming up right about now. Stay with us. Can you feel the love? (Laughter)

From his latest CD, “Ten,” here is Brian McKnight along with his sons BJ and Niko, performing “For the Rest of My Life.” Enjoy.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm