Even though he always dreamed of a career in music, Keith Sweat says he planned for an alternative career — just in case.
“I think everyone should have an alternative plan. In my case, I went to the City College of New York and got my degree in communications. So I had a backup plan so that I didn’t lose out on a decent future,” says Sweat, about to take the stage at the Keswick Theater in Glenside on Aug. 18.
As it turned out, Sweat needn’t have worried. In a career that has spanned decades, the New York-born songwriter/record producer/vocalist/actor/radio personality has broken records and blazed many trails as he contributed to the pop and R&B genres. He is also coined as the genius behind the New Jack Swing phenomenon of the late 1980s.
New Jack Swing incorporated hip-hop with contemporary soul, high-tech funk and, in some cases, rap. It lasted for approximately six years. Sweat was considered one of the stars of the New Jack Swing era, and many historians studying this form of music feel that it was his debut album that kicked off the genre.
That debut and now classic 1987 album, “Make It Last Forever,” sold more than three million copies, producing several R&B hit singles, including “I Want Her.”
Sweat explains that he was able to write the majority of songs on that album, gaining inspiration, as he does even today, from a combination of situations. “Sometimes I’m inspired by conversations I hear, or things I feel, or chords I like from something I’ve heard. There are many things that come into my ability to write songs.”
His second album, ‘I’ll Give All My Love,” was released in 1990 and reached the top of the charts, and contained the hit, “Make You Sweat,” which reached number one on the R&B charts.
More and more top-selling albums followed, as did accolades and awards, including his being named Favorite Male R&B/Soul Artist for the American Music Awards in 1997.
He’s also appeared on a variety of talk shows and sitcoms, and a handful of independent movies. For example, he appeared on television in an episode of the hit show “New York Undercover,” and the TV show, “Martin.” He says he might take that part of his career further, if the right offers come his way.
“But right now,” he explains, “I’m a little too busy just trying to do my music thing. I have a relationship book coming out in February. I have a syndicated radio show in about 21 markets and other things as well. I wouldn’t mind acting some more, but right now, I look at all my achievements and feel pretty happy about them all.”
Sweat has four children, and says his two sons seem to want to follow in their father’s footsteps. “But I don’t push them. I allow them to do whatever they want to do, and be whoever they want to be, as long as it’s all good. If anything, at times I try to get them thinking about being doctors or lawyers because the music industry is a crazy industry now. So I’d like them to think about careers that will last them a lifetime.”
Not everyone is cut out for this business, he continues. “It’s not easy to have a career in the music industry, and you have to really want it to, hopefully, one day achieve it. You don’t do it because you want to be rich or famous. You do it because you have to, because you love it.”
As for Sweat himself, however, he concedes that music has been one of the best things that ever happened to him. He says, “I find music very therapeutic for me, for everybody. One thing about music is that it makes you smile and feel good. That’s why it’s so universal. And my music has made me a household name for a lot of people.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 572-7650.