By Bianca B. King
Professional jazz bass guitarist Joseph M. Toliver shares insight on his multi-decade career, musical inspirations, and upcoming projects this Black Music Appreciation Month.
A multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for playing the bass guitar, Joseph M. Toliver has an enviable musical resume. He’s played with such legends as Joe McBride, En Vogue, Reuben Studdard, Wynonna Judd, Nancy Wilson, and Tom Braxton, to name a few. At the age of 14, Toliver had mastered multiple instruments, including playing lead guitar, piano, organ, and the bass guitar, solidifying his musical passion for life. Although a freelance accompanist, Toliver has recorded and produced several projects for himself and others.
Toliver, 49, a successful entrepreneur, father, grandfather, and godparent, graciously sat down with Dallas Weekly to share how his grandmother helped influence his professional career and give advice to the next generation of Black professional musicians.
DW: Tells us a little about your background.
Toliver: I was born and raised in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. I graduated from Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in the Class of 1991, and I’ve been playing music professionally since my 11th-grade year in high school. I am currently the bassist for national recording artist Tom Braxton.
DW: What was your first music memory, and how did that shape the artist you are today?
Toliver: My earliest memory of music came from my maternal grandmother. She had a piano and an organ in her home. She was also an organist at our church, where many of my immediate and extended family attended. My grandmother paid for private piano lessons with my piano teacher, who had a blind Pug. Every time I messed up, it barked. I’ll never forget the experience.
One of my uncles gave me a guitar very early in life. I played guitar and drums until my 9th-grade year. That year I picked up the bass guitar, and that was it, and it became my primary instrument.
DW: Tell me about a time that you failed as a professional musician, and what did it teach you?
Toliver: I don’t recall a particular time I failed as a professional musician. I’ve always made it a point to learn and know the music and be professional and on time. If I had one thing I’d do over, I’d study music theory and history more deeply.
DW: Who are your influences, musically or otherwise?
Toliver: I’m influenced by many of the bassists locally in the Dallas area. Charles “Chuck” Smith, Jerome Allen, and the late Alvin “Junebug” Shaw are just a few names of some bassists I listened to and looked up to. Stanley Clark, Marcus Miller, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, 90’s R&B, Traditional Gospel, Jazz, symphony, and orchestral music are also some artists and genres that influence me.
DW: Why do you believe the arts, especially music, are essential to our Black culture?
Toliver: I think music and the arts are essential to our culture. A lot of it originated from Black people and Black culture. Gospel, jazz, blues, even rock n’ roll, and many other genres were birthed by Black people. If we study and know our history and pass it down, it should remain relevant and continue to be an integral part of our community and culture.
DW: How has being a musician helped you transcend negativity, including racism?
Toliver: Music is a healer, a bonding agent, and can break barriers. I am currently releasing music from a series entitled ‘Social Consciousness’. It’s covers of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Marvin Gaye. These are a few of the many artists in a certain era that wrote timeless music that transcended color lines while protesting racial and social inequalities. Sadly, we haven’t come as far as we should have because many of those protest songs’ lyrics are still relevant today. I’ve played for mixed audiences many times. Coming together and listening to music is one of the few times we can be in the same place, enjoying the same thing, and our differences don’t matter.
DW: This is a very interesting and timely project, Social Consciousness. What do you hope it does for the listeners?
Toliver: A few songs from this series have already been released. “Mercy Mercy Me’’ by Marvin Gaye, a duet with Tom Braxton, was released on June 8, 2021. “PMTWGR” (People Make The World Go’ Round’) by The Stylistics was released on April 4, 2022. Both can be found on all digital music platforms.
I hope listeners will enjoy and appreciate how I and my co-producer, Jordache Grant, have reimagined these songs. I hope they go back and listen to the lyrics and see how relevant they are to our current social climate.
DW: That’s truly inspiring. When will the next piece in the series be released?
Toliver: Thank you. The next release, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, will release in late June or early July 2022.
DW: As a Dallas native, you have witnessed many changes in the city. How do you feel the city and music scene have grown and changed over the years?
Toliver: Dallas has a rich music history. In recent years, many venues, musicians, singers, and artists have helped make Dallas a destination for music. Across the country and the world, Dallas musicians are being sought out. Dallas also has one of the best Arts Districts in the country.
DW: If you could have a jam session with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
Toliver: Prince! Without question. Prince is my favorite artist of all. The guy was a genius and a revolutionary! He covered almost every genre, and I appreciate that he didn’t seem to care about people’s opinions. He put out the music he wanted to!
DW: What’s the best venue you’ve played in Dallas?
Toliver: I had the pleasure of an incredible experience of playing for the late, great Lady and Diva vocalists Nancy Wilson at the Meyerson Symphony Center. That was one of the most memorable experiences. It is a spectacular place in our city and a wonderful place to play.
DW: What advice would you give an up-and-coming Black artist about the music industry and what it takes to become a professional musician?
Toliver: My advice is talent is just a piece of it. Many call themselves “professional musicians” but don’t live up to the “professional” part. It’s not enough to just be able to play an instrument; you should also be presentable, timely, and prepared. I’d also advise those aspiring to be professional musicians to learn as much as possible about music and the music business.
DW: That’s fantastic advice. Where can our readers connect with you and listen to your music?
Bianca B. King, Contributing Writer, Dallas Weekly
Bianca, a Texas native, has called Dallas home for over 30 years. Via her digital-marketing agency, Seven5 Seven3 Marketing Group, she has served hundreds of entrepreneurs since 2008, helping her clients achieve a combined revenue of over $275 million and counting. As a contributing writer for Entreprenuer.com, Bianca works to amplify the voices of BIPOC women entrepreneurs through her writing. She is also the founder of Pretty Damn Ambitious, an exclusive collective for premier coaches.