Born of Puerto Rican and West Indian heritage. Maxwell lost his father in a plane crash when he was just three years old. The experience influenced his strong religious background and he started singing in his Baptist church. He became serious about making music at age 17 when he began writing his own songs using a cheap Casio keyboard given to him by a friend. Initially inspired by early-'80s urban R&B, his musical skills progressed rapidly and by 1991 he was performing on the New York club scene. After making a name for himself, he signed a recording contract with Columbia in 1994.
Maxwell began working with songwriter Leon Ware and noted guitarist Wah Wah Watson to record his debut Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite in the early 1990's. When the album was finished Columbia had doubts about its potential and shelved it for two years. The album finally issued it in 1996.
Heavily inspired by the sound of classic soul music, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite did not catch on with audiences until the release of its second single, "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)", which became a hit. Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite sold over 2,000,000 copies, earning 2X platinum status, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
On June 15, 1997, Maxwell taped an episode of the MTV concert series MTV Unplugged in New York City, performing his own songs as well as covers of songs by Kate Bush ("This Woman's Work) and Nine Inch Nails ("Closer"). Maxwell clashed with his label about the release of an album of his unplugged session, so only an EP containing seven songs was released for sale.
Maxwell's second studio album, Embrya, was released in 1998. The following year, Maxwell released "Fortunate", a single written by R. Kelly and featured on the soundtrack for the 1999 film Life. The single peaked at number one on Billboard magazine's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and Tracks chart. To date, "Fortunate" is Maxwell's most successful single and was Billboard's number one R&B single of 1999.
Now, Maxwell's third album, was released in 2001, becoming his first No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 album chart and Billboard's R&B album chart. It featured the hit singles "Lifetime" and a studio version of "This Woman's Work"; the Kate Bush song Maxwell covered during his 1997 MTV Unplugged set.
Maxwell appeared on the 2008 BET Awards, where he performed the song "Simply Beautiful" in a tribute to Al Green.
After taking several years off, Maxwell released his latest album BLACKsummers'night on July 7, 2009. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Albums Top 200 chart, his second album to receive that ranking. Maxwell said his reason for leaving the music industry for such a long period of time was "to just to take time off. The music industry has so much competition and there was no rush for me." He performed his hit single "Pretty Wings" at the 2009 BET Awards. An audio clip of the song "Pretty Wings" from BLACK was featured on Maxwell's myspace page in spring 2008. The full single made its world premier on the Tom Joyner Morning Show on April 28, 2009, after the New School/Old School Remix by Steve "Silk" Hurley. "Pretty Wings" is also sold as a digital download on iTunes.
On his myspace page, Maxwell describes his current project, BLACKsummers'night, as the first installment in a trilogy of albums to be released over three years beginning July 7, 2009. The second installment, blackSUMMERS'night is scheduled for release in 2010 and the third installment, blacksummers'NIGHT, for 2011.
On his 2008 fall tour, he has played tracks from the upcoming albums including, "Pretty Wings", "Bad Habits", "Never Do W/Out You", "Help Somebody", and "Cold".