Pheeroan akLaff was born in Detroit, Michigan January 27, 1955, and named Paul, by his parents in honor of Paul Robeson one of their favorite musicians. Though his parents did not play instruments they enjoyed dancing with the Lunceford, Basie, Eckstein, and Ellington bands. His mother, distantly related to Wings Over Jordan choir director Glenn T. Settlle, was a fan of classical repertoire. His father is a Jazz fan and audiophile. This spawned a musical household in which all seven children had music lessons at some stage of their development. Eric, the eldest became a concert pianist and choir conductor.
Largely an autodidact, with some years at Eastern Michigan University, Pheeroan studied privately with Randall Hicks (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra), and "Pistol" Allen (Motown) in his youth, and was encouraged by his brother Eric Maddox, Dwight Andrews, and several musicians at nearby University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to pursue music. He played in bands, with arranger Travis Biggs, facilitating his first recording date; a 45rpm for local R&B singer Major Lasky titled Remember Me Always (1973). He could enjoy hearing this on the radio when he was 18 years old.
In 1975 akLaff moved to New Haven Connecticut with fellow detroiter Dwight Andrews, started a band named DejaVu. which included Nat Addreley Jr., Jarawa Brian Gray, and Jay Hoggard. Following a concert arranged by Robert Ferris Thompson he connected with Rashied Ali, drummer of John Coltrane's ensembles.. He also encountered Wadada Leo Smith who introduced him to the New York performances which would propell his accompanist career with legendary creative musicians including Oliver Lake, Anthony Davis, Henry Threadgill, Sonny Sharrock, Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor, Yamashita Yosuke, Amiri Baraka, Liu Sola, Henry Brant, Tom Pierson, and Anthony Braxton.
As a young artist Pheeroan akLaff toured several countries of Africa, Asia and Europe. He produced a wave of Funk and Reggae influenced performances and recordings in the 1980’s. after his Urban West African music immersion in Abidjan, Cote D”Ivoire with the Marie Rose Guiraud dance troupe. He met Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sonny Okosun, and Steve Rhodes with scholar Dr. Frank T. Fairfax III, in Lagos Nigeria. He performed with Oliver Lake in Malawi, Swaziland, Cote D'Ivoire Togo and Liberia, and with Jay Hoggard, in Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Egypt and India for the U.S. State Department.
In the 1990's he presented his ensembles at the Willisau festival of Switzerland, the Sju festival of the Netherlands, the Montsalvat festival of Australia, the Moers, and the Nurnberg festivals of Germany. He led the Double Duo ensemble with two saxophonists; Mixashawn and Ravi Coltrane, and with two drummers; akLaff and his mentor Rashied Ali.
Pheeroan akLaff believes that the arts are a way to give thanks, and to work for change. His non profit organization Seed Artists encorages education, mentorship and enlightenment through selective arts presentations. With Creative Director Chris Napierala he has recently presented music festivals and symposiums at William Patterson University, and Montclair State University, childrens writing workshops, and community concerts at The Montclair Public Library, and community concerts at local galleries.
In 2016- 2017 he will serve as curator at Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens, NY.
Since 1991. Mr.akLaff has taught drums and creative music to University students at New School University in New York, and at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.