Gerald Maxwell Rivera (born May 23, 1973), known mononymously as Maxwell, is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist. Along with fellow musicians D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, Maxwell has been credited with helping to shape what has been termed the “neo-soul” movement that rose to prominence during the late 1990s. Maxwell was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a Haitian mother and a Puerto Rican father. His mother grew up in a devout Baptist household in Haiti. Maxwell’s father died in a plane crash when Maxwell was three years old.
After receiving a low-cost Casio keyboard from a friend, the Brooklyn, New York-native began composing music at age 17. Already a fan of what he described as “Jheri curl soul”, which was the trademark of early 1980s R&B acts such as Patrice Rushen, S.O.S. Band, and Rose Royce, Maxwell began to teach himself to play a variety of instruments. According to him, the R&B of the early 1980s contained “the perfect combination of computerized instrumentation with a live feel”, and that the genre’s dynamics later became lost due to the influence of hip hop on R&B. Despite facing ridicule from classmates for being shy and awkward, he progressed and continued to develop his musical abilities, and he also adopted the look of a more bohemian style outwardly in his clothing, growing long sideburns and letting his hair grow out wildly and combed in an extreme style, or sometimes putting his hair in long thin braids.
Initially influenced by the early-1980s urban R&B, Maxwell progressed rapidly, and by 1991 he was performing on the New York City club scene. Maxwell was able to gain access to a 24-track recording studio and started to record songs for a demo tape, which he circulated among his friends. The demo engendered interest, and his official debut concert performance at Manhattan nightclub Nell’s drew a crowd. During the next two years, Maxwell wrote and recorded over three hundred songs and played frequently at small venues throughout New York City. Maxwell’s performances continued to draw interest and increase the buzz about him, and he was called “the next Prince” by a writer from Vibe magazine who attended one of his shows. After earning a considerable reputation, Maxwell signed a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1994. He adopted his middle name as a moniker out of respect for his family’s privacy.