A journeyman soul singer who enjoyed his greatest success after more than three decades in show business, Lee Fields initially specialized in the taut, gritty funk that James Brown made famous. However, Fields’s breakthrough came when he developed a more distinctive and personal style and found a new following in the retro-soul movement.
He first made his name among die-hard funk fans with a series of hard-hitting singles recorded for various small labels during the ’70s. Fields never hit it big, but his rough-and-tumble singles became popular collectors’ items.
After a lengthy hiatus, he returned in the ’90s as a soul-blues belter playing to female-heavy audiences on the Southern circuit. Thanks to sample-obsessed hip-hoppers and British rare-groove aficionados, interest in lesser-known vintage funk reached a peak in the late ’90s, and Fields was fortunate enough to have remained active when new recordings in the style became a viable proposition. Fields emerged as the leading light of the so-called deep funk movement with 1999’s Let’s Get a Groove On, the first in a series of recordings that often equaled, and sometimes outdid, his early work. More recently, his recordings with his band the Expressions over the last decade have cemented his reputation as the King of Contemporary Soul Music.
Like any living legend worth their salt, Fields has suffered despair, obscurity, defeat. Although he now tours stages around the world, and although he helped fellow soul legends like Sharon Jones (who was once Fields’ backup singer) and Charles Bradley (whom Fields took on his first tour) get their first break, he did not always have this position. There were years—they were known as “the 1980s”—when Fields nearly gave up. His success these days, then has a bittersweet tinge: His dear friends Bradley and Jones have both passed, leaving Fields to outlive them and carry their legacy forth.
With all these years, and all this life, comes a sort of divine wisdom, and Fields has it in spades. He just believes in people’s ability to love and be loved, and he understands that music is the divine bridge to these places.