“If Björk and Bilal had a baby and they were listening to Radiohead when they were having sex, I'm the child that came out of that,” avant-garde singer Dre Peace said of his style, which fuses indie, funk and jazz. “I'd be their lovechild, in a perfect world.”
Roughly eight years after opening at the Lincoln Theatre, Peace will finally headline the legendary stage when he kicks off the 2023 season of “Backstage at the Lincoln” with a concert on Friday, Jan. 20.
“I have been trying to perform on that Lincoln Theatre stage, myself, for a long time,” Peace said. “I mean, damn. James Brown has performed on that stage. Etta James. Ella Fitzgerald. Duke Ellington.”
It’s been a long, sometimes winding journey for the musician, who started making music as a child and more recently had to overcome health issues, having been hospitalized with a diagnosis of aplastic anemia (a bone marrow disorder in which the body does not make enough new blood cells) in 2020.
Peace made his live debut in church choir at age 5. After landing a manager, he traveled the country as a singer, performing in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. At age 10, he signed with an agency, which led to a contract with Disney and an appearance on Broadway, where he played young Simba in a production of “The Lion King” at New Amsterdam Theatre. Over the years, he’s performed in front of a range of dignitaries, including Sen. John Kerry and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He has also performed as a part of the Tryangles for about 10 years.
In spite of these sometimes-far-flung travels, Peace has kept home close at heart, crediting his family with helping to support him financially, mentally and at times physically.
“Everything I do is honoring them,” Peace said of his family, crediting the sacrifices made by his grandmother, Joyce Roberts. The singer also adopted one of his hobbies from his 100-year-old great grandfather, Virgil Smith, who once gifted the singer a vintage Ralph Lauren bag – a present that has since blossomed into a luggage collection that now numbers north of 80. When Peace performs at the Lincoln, the stage will be decorated with roughly two-dozen of these accumulated suitcases.
Peace leaned even more heavily on his family following his aplastic anemia diagnosis, which can still leave him with tense muscles and joint pains, particularly in colder weather. The singer said that the pain is not always there; he has good days and bad days, and he’s got a good support system to help him. He said that he takes care of himself in the lead up to performances, but that if he experiences pain while singing, he pushes through and eventually forgets about the aches.
“The performances are the only time I feel like I just can truly escape from whatever is going on,” Peace said. “All of my only concern and focus is to take that audience on that ride with me. And pain can’t be a part of that ride.”
Help and support also arrived from within the Columbus music community. When Peace was diagnosed, Talisha Holmes helped him navigate the healthcare system. On Friday, she’ll open for Peace in concert.
At the Lincoln, Peace will also be joined by his new band, Wierfield Place, named for the street where he grew up and on which his grandmother still lives.
“I knew that they were the people I wanted to play with for the rest of my life,” Peace said of his new backing crew. “When I heard these folks all together, when I hung out with them, when we had our talks, our conversations, whatever, our meetings, our rehearsals, I knew that we were a unit. We were a family. We were one. Our sound was unique. We had the same goals. We heard each other, you know? We felt what each other felt.”