Busta’s Person of the Week: He’s the heartbeat of Frankie Beverly and Maze

Calvin Napper

Busta’s Person of the Week: He’s the heartbeat of Frankie Beverly and Maze
April 18
00:10 2019

By Busta Brown

Yes, that’s Frankie Beverly with the white cap on singing his heart out. But this story is not about Frankie; it’s about the Heartbeat of Maze live in concert and how it all happened.

Let’s start at the beginning and then make our way to how Winston-Salem’s own, drummer Calvin Napper, met Frankie Beverly, the legendary silky soul voice of one the greatest bands of all-time – Maze. There was little doubt that Calvin Napper was going to be a superstar drummer one day. He was always fascinated with drums. “My aunts have stories about me coming to the house and pulling out their pots and pans and then beating on them. They knew that I was going to be a drummer.” At the age of five, Calvin was blessed with his first drum set and he would pretend he was in concert. That dream came true at the age of 12. “My mom and aunts had a gospel group called The Napper Singers. I started traveling with them. They were in what is called the Quartet Circuit, so I grew up liking the music. So that’s how I got my start.” Napper said he loved watching other drummers play; his favorite as a child was the drummer for the gospel quartet The Brooklyn All-Stars. “His name was Daryl Evans. When I saw him, I was like, this guy is amazing.”

The dynamic self-taught drummer spent most of his high school years playing in the school’s jazz band and local jazz groups. Over ten years ago, he became the drummer for Greater Church in Winston-Salem, where he’s now the assistant musical director. As Calvin’s career took off, Bishop Sheldon McCarter was very supportive. He credits the experience as a church drummer to his success. “Playing in quartet as a young man is where I got my foundation. It taught me how to play and stay in the pocket. In church is where I learned that the bass and drums are the heartbeat in music and a band. Playing in church really helps with being diverse with different music and styles.”

He’s a very humble man, which in my 30 years in radio, I’ve rarely seen in musicians with Napper’s long list of credits. He’s toured, played and recorded with gospel, jazz, and R&B legends such as Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood, Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers, Lejeune Thompson, Hezekiah Walker, Bishop T.D. Jakes Potter’s House Mass Choir, CeCe Winans, Rance Allen, Walter Hawkins, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Karen Clark Sheard, Twinkie Clark, Richard Smallwood, Men of Standard, Byron Cage, Stephanie Mills, Patti La Belle, Mike Phillips, Lonnie Liston Smith, and many more. He’s played with the Grammy Awards house band during a tribute to gospel music. In 2005 he was awarded a Grammy as drummer for Donnie McClurkin’s Grammy award-winning “Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs.”

His career to superstardom came when gospel giant John P. Kee recruited him to tour as his drummer. “That was the gig that put me on.” After touring with John P. Kee, his career took off. The list would take up the entire interview. One of the biggest names is Stephania Mills and that led him to Frankie Beverly and Maze. Here we go! I’ve seen Mills in concert and she has one  of the best bands I’ve seen. They play, sing and dance. If you can catch one of her shows, jump on it. She’s gets down with her band as well. Stephanie’s still got it. When I saw Mills, Calvin was the drummer, the heartbeat of the band. They opened for Maze in Baltimore. “After the show I stayed because I’m a big Frankie Beverly fan. Carl Wheeler, who wrote the song ‘Anniversary’ for Tony Toni Tone, plays keys for Maze. After their show, we talked. He said you would be perfect for Maze. I would love for you to come out and audition.”  Napper said it was a blessing because he was transitioning out of Stephanie Mills band. “It was right on time.”

“About a year later I got a call from the Maze people to come to audition. I was chilling with my wife Keva. Frankie’s management guy said the more prepared you are, the more Frankie will dig you. He also said you may want to bring extra clothes, because if Frank likes you, he’ll keep you over an extra day or so.”

After the call, Calvin went on YouTube to study Maze’s new and old band and also listened to some live records. He flew to California for the audition and it happened. “He did keep me over and after the second of the auditions, they said welcome to the band.”

I was sitting there in awe, because I’m one of their biggest and most loyal fans. I’ve been to every concert since 1977 and it never gets old. I remember when Patti Labelle opened for Maze and she told the crowd, “I know most of you are wondering why I’m not the headliner. I learned during my first show, you don’t headline Maze.” Patti puts on an amazing show as well, but she was right; you don’t headline Maze.

Calvin is also a big fan, so when he joined the band, “I was like wow. Is this real?” and he threw his hands up and laughed. One day during rehearsal he finally met Frankie Beverly. “We were jamming and he came in and walked up to the mic and started singing. I couldn’t believe I was in the same band with Frankie. When he started singing, I was amazed at how rhythmic he was. His voice was like another instrument. The way he phrases his stuff is crazy. As a drummer, his style of singing makes it easy for you to lock in. He told me he dug the way I played. He said I have those precise drum sounds.”

When I last saw Maze two years ago, I was the MC. After I introduced the band, the drums kicked in and the crowd went crazy. Napper began doing his thing, so I knew exactly why Frankie dug his style. He’s one of the best drummers I’ve seen live. When you see Maze live, along with Frankie and founding member Rome, you’ll see that Napper drums is the heartbeat of the band.  “To see the appreciation Maze fans have is like being in church,” he said with excitement.  He’s been with Maze for 10 years.

“Frankie is 72 and he’s still going strong.  We don’t use tracks, it’s all live,” said Calvin.

I ended the interview with a tough question: If you had to choose a tour between your favorite gospel artist or Maze, who would it be? Napper took at least five minutes before he responded, “Gospel music is my first love, it’s who I am and will always be. So this is tough.” You’ll have to go to our YouTube channel to hear his choice and see more of the interview. Calvin Napper is also a song writer and producer. For info on how to purchase his CDs ‘Good Vibes,’ ‘Sticks of Praise,’ and ‘Soul Rhythms,’ as well as his contact info, go to

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