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Lenny Kravitz on authenticity, individualism and his unique sound


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Lenny Kravitz has been busy, a new single out today from his album set for release in May and an international tour this summer. And earlier this month, he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I spoke with Kravitz in Los Angeles, and we visited some of his old haunts for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Lenny Kravitz seamlessly blends rock, funk, soul and R&B, resulting in a sound uniquely his own. With a career spanning nearly four decades, he has not only captivated audiences worldwide with chart-topping hits, but has become a symbol of artistic authenticity and individualism, always effortlessly cool.

We spoke with Lenny Kravitz about his life, career and new album at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.

Your music defies categorization. How are you able to resist the commercial demands, especially earlier in your career, to fit a specific genre or appeal to a specific audience?

Lenny Kravitz, Musician: I never had the desire to do that, thus me turning down those record deals when I was a teenager.

Geoff Bennett: It would have been easy to accept one of them. How did you know that...

Lenny Kravitz: Absolutely.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.

Lenny Kravitz: And not only that. I needed it and I wanted it so badly. I wanted to be making music.

And so when you have people offering you at a young age, we're going to give you money, we're going to give you the opportunity, we're -- you're going to go to Europe, and we're going to put you in the studio with big producers, and then you're going to go on tour,and these are the things you have been dreaming of as a child.

But every time they offered me that situation, it came with, you know you can't make that music that we just listened to you making. You have to do this, because this is what works. This is the formula. This is what a Black artist should be doing. This is what making hit records is.

But there was always this feeling inside of me that, when I was about to say yes, felt very uncomfortable, and I shut down. My body would not let me do it. And I said no each time. And I'd walk off the lot of the record label and get back on that 212 bus going down La Brea to wherever the hell I was going at the time.


Geoff Bennett: We spent the day with Lenny Kravitz, and he took us to that bus stop, the symbolic starting point for a transformative career that would solidify his status as one of the preeminent musicians of our time, starting with his debut 1989 album, "Let Love Rule."

Lenny Kravitz: Every time I pass this place, I always think about those days.

Geoff Bennett: Yes, your face lights up when you talk about it. It's really incredible that you have never lost sight of this.

Lenny Kravitz: No, I never will. It's all part of the adventure. And I spent a lot of time sitting here and thinking about life and making music. And so it's very close to my heart.

Geoff Bennett: Performance is ingrained in his DNA. His father, Sy Kravitz, was a TV news producer. His mother, Roxie Roker, was an actress who found TV fame on Norman Lear's classic sitcom "The Jeffersons."

Roxie Roker, Actress: Are the Howards by any chance an interracial couple?

Geoff Bennett: His was a multiracial, multiethnic household, Ukrainian Jewish and Afro-Caribbean. His family moved to the historic Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles when he was in high school.

So what memories does this house hold for you?

Lenny Kravitz: This is everything. This was the first house my family owned, my mom and my dad. We moved out here in '75, when "The Jeffersons" started, but this became the center of our family functions and all the parties that my mom had, you know, with all of these Black pioneers that were doing everything at the time in every field.

Everybody stuck together. Everybody was extended family. And so everything happened in this house, man.

Geoff Bennett: Yes.


Geoff Bennett: As we were talking, neighbors and old family friends came out to say hello and catch up.

Lenny Kravitz: Oh, my God.

Geoff Bennett: Lenny says he finds a comfort and a steadiness in these relationships and values that shaped him from the start.

Lenny Kravitz: Good to see you.

Geoff Bennett: In your book, you wrote that your life is one of opposites, black and white, Jewish and Christian, Jackson 5 and Led Zeppelin.

How has that manifested in your work?

Lenny Kravitz: More contrasts than opposites, beautiful contrasts. Having this wide range and not paying attention to so-called boundaries just gave me more colors to play with, more depth.

So I'd make my stew and use all of these things that people maybe thought shouldn't be all put together, but that's what I was making.

Geoff Bennett: Beyond his musical success, Lenny Kravitz has made an imprint in the realms of fashion, design and acting, appearing as Cinna in the "Hunger Games" franchise.

Jennifer Lawrence, Actress: Will I be twirling tonight?

Lenny Kravitz: Save it for the end.

Geoff Bennett: He also had roles in the critically acclaimed Lee Daniels films "Precious" and "The Butler."

But even with four consecutive Grammy Awards, 11 studio albums, which have sold 40 million copies worldwide, it hasn't been easy making a way in an industry that doesn't always value individuality.

Do you feel like the cultural gatekeepers, the music gatekeepers had to catch up to you and had to catch up to what you're doing?

Lenny Kravitz: I don't really pay much attention to that, but, like the people that influenced me, sometimes, you just got to be ahead of the game. And you may not get whatever attention or accolades or what -- you know, whatever it might be, but that doesn't matter. It's about the journey, you know?

Geoff Bennett: Do you ever feel underappreciated for your barrier-breaking and all of your contributions to music and the culture?

Lenny Kravitz: No. No, because I appreciate it. I appreciate the life that God's given me and what I'm doing, and not that I need validation, but when you have people that did give you that, whether it was Miles Davis after he heard my first album, or it was Mick Jagger, or it was Robert Plant, or it was Prince, or it was Curtis Mayfield, the people that taught you, the people that you look up to, they were befriending me.

They were supporting me. They understood what I was doing. That gave me a lot of fuel.

And the whole reason I create and perform music is to amplify love.

Geoff Bennett: And he says his love affair with music still hasn't lost its spark.

How do you maintain that? Forty-million plus records sold. You have been in this business for 35 years, Rock and Hall of Fame nominee this year. I mean, how does all of that strike you? And how do you then also maintain that same creative spark?

Lenny Kravitz: I think it's my love for music, period. I love music. I always have loved music. I was born to make music. Music has created my life. It has saved my life. It has brought me meaning and joy and purpose.

And I think, by nature, I'm an extremely grateful person. I wake up every day grateful for life every day.

Geoff Bennett: Lenny Kravitz's 12th studio album, "Blue Electric Light," his first in six years, is scheduled for release in May ahead of a world tour kicking off this summer.

And, online, you can hear more from Lenny Kravitz on the inspiration behind one of my favorite songs. That's "I Belong to You." And that's on our YouTube channel.

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