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MUSIC: Old Soul

Local singer Jon Bibbs takes the indie route to R&B success.


"I wear my heart on my sleeve," Bibbs says. This is true. With the honest and eager funk of "Red," the third single from his second album, "The Color of Love," Bibbs announces the return to a genre that does not boast of sex or casual relationships. He is interested in the courtship, the family, with God as the center. Yet the irony is that Bibbs has never been in love; he sings about what he sees and what he believes to be true.

Bibb wears a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and green canvas pants at Tropical Soul. His hair is an attractive array of cornrows. His black plastic rimmed glasses sit on his nose loosely, and he wears little jewelry. Bibbs' style is modest and playful. Yet after he walks over to the stereo to put on his latest album, his demeanor changes; he breaks out into a dance, slides across the floor, telling the restaurant patrons, "This is my favorite." His voice is permeating the small space and patrons take note, bobbing their heads.

Bibbs is a native of Richmond. When he was 2 he began playing piano at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he learned the Suzuki method. This method, the same one taught to Alicia Keyes, allows a young child to learn music by ear, using scaled-down instruments. It's meant to discourage competitive attitudes and encourage collaboration among children at every age and ability.

"I remember wanting to play the organ," Bibbs says, "but teacher told me to stick with piano because my feet were too short for the organ's pedals."

By the age of 15, Bibbs had performed with the Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra and was responsible for directing his church choir at Sixth Baptist Church on South Addison street, where his mother, Yvonne Bibbs, is the pastor.

Although he knew that music was his passion, he did not take a serious plunge into his career until his senior year at Hampton University, where he majored in history. "I was trying to make school and my music work," says Bibbs, who would travel during the week performing and try to attend classes the morning after. Now, when Bibbs wakes in the morning he mediates, makes phone calls and contacts, and then heads for the studio where he produces for other artists in exchange for studio time to complete his third album. He also teaches music at Richmond Preparatory Christian Academy and plays soccer in his spare time.

"Bibbs' first two albums, "True Story" and "Red: The Color of Love," are circulating in Europe. His third album, "Unbreakable," will be released Aug. 23 via his Web site,, which he designed himself. Although several major record labels have approached him, he says he has decided to remain independent, writing and producing his own music. Bibbs even designs the graphics for his CD covers. He's found help with the booking and distributing by contracting that work out. And he's performed with his band up and down the East Coast.

"In five years," he says, "I still want to be around making music. It is hard sometimes, paying bills and struggling, but I still want to be making music." S

Jon Bibbs will perform Aug. 19 at 10 p.m. at Tropical Soul, 314 N. Second St. He's opening for India.Arie's backup singer Keshawna Reeves, who will be headlining the show. Marlon Cee is playing at 9 p.m. Call 771-1605 for more information. Tickets are $10 before 10 p.m.; $15 after.

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