From his auspicious recording debut at the age of 14 singing on Quincy Jones' seven-time Grammy Award winning Back On The Block CD which was named the 1990 Album of the Year, to his critically acclaimed solo career and performing around the world as a musical ambassador for the Traveling Guitar Foundation, Derek McKeith has distinguished himself as a unique talent encompassing rock, blues, R&B, hip-hop and pop music into his own distinctive style.
Self taught on guitar, bass, piano and drums, McKeith’s two solo CDs, Something Strange and The Signature on his own Electric Life Records label have garnered radio airplay from Los Angeles to Australia. "Can't Get Enough" from The Signature became a number one song on BET. His music was also featured on the Showtime TV series "Soul Food" and the soundtrack of the "Son of the Mask" along with songs by Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Paul Anka, and Chubby Checker.
His enthralling stage performances draw comparisons to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz, and as the New York Amsterdam News wrote, "His sizzling guitar playing conjured up memories of a young Jimi Hendrix."
McKeith has been acclaimed for performances at some of America’s most popular concert venues including the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and B.B. King Blues Club in New York City. He's also performed on television on "The Today Show." As a last minute replacement for Usher on "Steve Harvey's Big Time" TV show, McKeith wowed music aficionado Harvey who lavished him with praise following his performance of "Headlines" from The Signature. In 2006 he captured the attention of entertainment industry elite when a VIP audience including Prince, Dr. Dre, and Magic Johnson was thoroughly impressed with his charismatic opening set at The Knitting Factory in LA.
In addition to his solo Work, McKeith takes pride in serving as the Director of West Coast Programs of the Traveling Guitar Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to supporting and encouraging music education programs for young people across the country. Through the foundation he has conducted music workshops with guests including Grammy Award winner Swizz Beatz and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels from Run-D.M.C., and donated hundreds of instruments in Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta and other cities. On a USO tour in Germany in May 2013, McKeith entertained military students and American troops. It was an unforgettable experience as a 23 year-old serviceman gave him a life changing compliment. "He was missing limbs from a bombing in Afghanistan, and he thanked me,” remembers McKeith. “I was the one who was thankful. Hearing his words, it changed my perspective. I know now I don’t just play music for myself. I appreciate the power of music.”
Bringing joy to wounded soldiers and presenting the gift of music to youth has empowered McKeith. “I love being able to donate instruments to kids and watch their faces light up. You can see their hunger for music. They are so grateful."
McKeith is extremely grateful to have launched his career recording with Quincy Jones. He sang background and appeared in the video for Tevin Campbell's single "Tomorrow" produced by Jones on Back On The Block. The classic CD featured legendary artists Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick, George Benson and Barry White. "It was an amazing experience working with Quincy Jones," says McKeith, "and it molded me into being a professional."
Following his dramatic introduction into the music business, McKeith worked with several R&B artists including Sisqo from Dru Hill, Avant, Jon B., and Tamar Braxton. He developed his ability to mesmerize audiences early in his career, performing on "The Tonight Show," "The Soul Train Music Awards," and "The Arsenio Hall Show.” "Being on the Soul Train Music Awards as a background singer was amazing and I was inspired to do my own music."
Growing up as the child of actress Sheila Frazier (star of the classic "Super Fly") and William Morris talent agent Sam McKeith (whose clients included Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, The Jackson Five, and Ray Charles), McKeith was immediately immersed into the entertainment world. He fell in love with drums, and it was mother's friend Bill Cosby who taught him how to play.
McKeith's extended family also includes two more giants of entertainment, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. "Through my father I met Stevie and Michael," he says. "I would hang out with Stevie at his Wonderland recording studios in LA. I also went to pool parties at the Jacksons' house. I was regularly around Michael during the Thriller days. People compare me to Prince but I feel I am musically more like Michael because his music involved every genre. Pop encompasses everything."
McKeith has recorded dozens of new songs and plans to release a new EP in the fall of 2013 followed by a full CD entitled Woman in 2014. "I want to show that my music is more expansive than just rock," he comments. "I get typecast as a rocker but I move from hip-hop, to R&B, to pop, to rock, and jazz and blues and I do it effortlessly, authentic and genuine. It is a musical kaleidoscope."
After 24 years in music and acting, McKeith is committed to utilizing his talent to continue a legacy of unity. "The great music festivals like Woodstock and Monterey Pop featured all music genres, and there were no issues of race," he says. "As I travel I see people are often separated by music. Like those festivals, I want my music to bring people together."