Although he was baptized at age 8, Kevin Toney didn't really apply Christian ideals to his life until he was over fifty. Throughout most of his long career, which included being a member of the Grammy-winning jazz group The Blackbyrds as well as being a solo jazz pianist who played with Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, his choice of the Seven Deadly Sins was lust. Unfaithful to his wife for many years, Toney has now come full circle spiritually and personally, and is a staunch advocate for monogamy and marital respect.
Toney is talkative, with a kind voice. When he speaks about his past he doesn't make excuses, acknowledging that he knew his philandering ways were wrong, but puts it in the context of something he calls “The Men's Code.” In short, the Men's Code is a rationalization of infidelity, a bundle of misconceptions about relationships that males are taught at an early age. Two of his personal codes were that it was okay to have affairs if they weren't under his own roof, and that it was okay to sleep with women in the cities he toured through as a musician.
He says he learned the Men's Code from his father. His parents were separated and when he talked about sex with his father it was in strictly physical terms. “The first thing my dad did [after the separation] was to sit us down and say 'I want to talk to you about having sex with a woman,'” he says. This introduction to how men should interact with women fostered an attitude that Toney maintained throughout the majority of his career.
Toney won't elaborate on how many times he was unfaithful, or the details of his affairs, but he does say that he was living the Men's Code to the nth degree. He describes himself during that time as “a broken man, one of the worst offenders.” The business he was in had something to do with his cheating; Toney says that infidelity is rampant in entertainment.
It took a hard toll on his marriage. “It was a snowball effect, it kept getting bigger and bigger,” he says. He took his vows in 1979, at the tail end of The Blackbyrds' run, but it took until 2004 for the conflict his behavior caused to come to a head. His wife asked him to leave their home and he checked into a hotel. “I didn't know what I was going to do,” he says, “I had just turned 50. It was my 25th year of marriage.”
He called a friend to “help cover for him,” but the friend, who had lost his own wife under similar circumstances, told him to face his problems. So Toney reached for the Bible, which was close at hand as he was in a hotel room, and began a long journey of self-discovery. The end goal was the reconstruction of his family and his spiritual self. “The restoration of my marriage did not happen over night,” he says, “It was a good five year period.”
But redemption wasn't impossible — Toney is now happily reunited with his wife, their marriage strong and stable. He has written a book about his experiences called The Virtuous Man – Breaking the Men's Code and released a new album with his band Kevin Toney 3 on July 24th entitled New American Suite. Produced by jazz legend Don Mizell, the record is a piano-driven mix of roots jazz, gospel, and soul. The third track, “A Soulful Union,” has a certain sweetness about it, and it's not hard to guess who inspired it.