Individual Voice

“Singers- nothing sounds like you.  For better or worse-there is only 1 of you.  Don’t homogenize your sound by making it just like the next.” – Lalah Hathaway

This quote on Twitter by one of my all-time favorite artists, Lalah Hathaway, was shared with me by my manager a couple of days ago.  It instantly struck “home” for me.  The fact that it was offered by Lalah who arguably possesses one of the most distinctive voices in the music industry carried much weight; but more importantly, this quote reflected a key component of my journey as an artist that continues to this day.

I spent many years comparing myself to various artists whose music played constantly in my home.  Every time the thought of pursuing a music career came to mind I shot it down quickly by saying to myself, “I will never sound as good as Luther Vandross, Nancy Wilson or Nat King Cole. Their voices are SO unique. Who am I kidding?” Then when I did perform I would try to channel specific singers to fit the song instead of approaching it in my own original way.  I still continued to sing when an opportunity presented itself, but I viewed my singing as a hobby and my talent as mediocre because I did not sound like one of my music heroes. It was a tough pill for me to swallow. Even after completing and releasing my debut album “Anticipation” I held onto this mentality.  Plus it didn’t help when people would come up to me after a performance and tell me I sounded just like Will Downing or Al Jarreau.  That was the “kiss of death” in my book because I didn’t want to be a carbon copy of another artist, but felt my own voice wasn’t special enough to be labeled as unique.

Fortunately when I moved to San Francisco Bay Area and began taking classes at the California Jazz Conservatory, I discovered a lot about myself as a vocalist and as a person. Not only was I challenged in the classroom by professors, but I was able to work with Raz Kennedy, a phenomenal voice coach, who helped me understand my instrument better.  I also met and befriended a lot of talented musicians and vocalists who provided me with inspiration and a supportive community that allowed me to learn and flourish.  I began to actually appreciate my tone and phrasing. I started to dig deeper into the nuances of my vocal abilities and experiment with how I approached songs.  This vital period of self-discovery shaped my artistry and vocal style infinitely.  I emerged from this training ground excited about and more confident in my individualism as an artist.  In fact, one reason I am so proud of my latest album “Colors of Life” is because it documents this self-awareness.

Now I recognize why I love those timeless artists that I grew up listening to so much.  They were/are originals! There is no one else who sounds like them.  Their uniqueness ranged from the timbre of their voices to their phrasing to their various forms of improvisation.  Yes….I can sometimes hear the influences of others in these particular artists’ music, but they succeeded in taking the lessons learned from other masters and making it their own such as Little Jimmy Scott’s impact on Nancy Wilson’s vocal style. We, as vocalists, all stand upon the shoulders of others who have gone before us, but it is our duty to define our sound to the listening world.  “Thank God” I learned this life-changing lesson early in my career so I could shed the crippling shackles of self-comparison and stay focused on allowing my voice to ring through in all its individual glory!

Anniversary!

1384276013820This week marks a very important anniversary in my life as a music artist.  A year ago I recorded my sophomore album “Colors of Life” at Tedesco Studios in NJ during a three-day recording stint from 11/11 – 11/13/13.  I still cannot believe it has been a full year since I stepped foot in the studio to tackle this benchmark point in my life.  So much has transpired in this past year that it doesn’t seem real that 12 months have literally passed since the recording session.

I still remember when I first started brainstorming on the concept of a new album and figuring out what exactly I wanted to say.  I refused to just record some random songs that held no relevance to my life and did not speak to who I am as an artist.  It had to be just right since this album symbolized a rebirth of my artistry that would establish precedence for my listeners/supporters.  Therefore I took my time to select the right tunes to reinterpret and write original pieces from the heart.  I also cautiously selected the key players to help me bring my vision to life.  Did I have some road bumps along the way? Oh yea! Did I question if I was on the wrong path? Heck yea! However, did the project surpass my expectations? Hell yes! I could not be more proud of the end result that is “Colors of Life” and be more grateful to the gifted individuals who have contributed their time and talent to helping me share this project with the world.

Now it is has been a year since I stood in the recording booth and I am able to look back positively at all the blessings that have come my way as a result of the recording ranging from live interviews on the radio to new supporters of my music journey.  I am confident that the word will continue to spread about “Colors of Life” and my voice will be able to touch many more.  As an artist what else could I hope to achieve?  Filled to the brim with excitement, I look forward to the next year and what beautiful mysteries it holds for me and my music.  I hope you all continue to stick around so you can find out too! Thanks for the support. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

Respect Your Audience

A recent article was sent to me by a couple of people entitled “It’s Finally Time to Stop Caring About Lauryn Hill.”  (https://medium.com/cuepoint/its-finally-time-to-stop-caring-about-lauryn-hill-e822d4dc22db)  I found it quite ironic when the article was sent to me because the day before I held a conversation about Lauryn Hill with my loctician and her performance in Raleigh, NC.  My first response after reading this article was “Amen!” It “hit home” for me not only as an artist, but as a devout supporter of musicians/artists and live music.   I was elated that someone finally shared my thoughts on this matter in printed form.

I was one of those individuals who found Lauryn Hill’s gift for song and words simply extraordinary.  When her one solo album was released I found myself utterly speechless at the sheer brilliance of the material. I remember reshelving books when I was in college at the library on campus while listening to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”  I can’t lie and say I did not grow emotional listening to songs like “Ex-Factor”, “To Zion” and “When It Hurts So Bad.”  I, like many others, kept this album on repeat in my CD player and could not wait to see Lauryn Hill’s star continue to rise even higher.

She then started to take a completely different path than I expected including a possible mental breakdown, going to jail for tax evasion and a serious length of time with NO new music.  I felt a lot of sympathy for her because living a celebrity lifestyle is not easy for everyone and it seemed to be toxic for her.  For years I prayed she would be able to pull it together and reclaim her space in the spotlight with a healthy mindset and stellar music.

Unfortunately, reality did not mimic my hopes for her. Instead I heard repeated stories for YEARS about her unpleasant attitude towards others and horrendous live performances. At first I thought she was just going through a rough patch and would get better. Oh no!! She continued to arrive 1 ½ to 2 hours late to every performance and sing butchered versions of some of her most beloved hits that always left the audience upset and feeling as if their time and money had been wasted.  After all the stories I heard I decided that Lauryn Hill would never receive any of my financial support again. I’m all for giving someone a pass here and there, but not after years of continuous disrespectful behavior towards those who provide you with the means to put food on the table. There has to be a limit!

To further solidify my stance on Lauryn Hill’s outrageous behavior, I attended concerts in the last few months of two of my favorite artists, Lionel Richie and Maysa Leak.  Lionel Richie is a music icon and Maysa is a veteran of the industry with over 25 years of musical excellence.  Both of these artists started their concerts on time, performed a string of hits and said “Thank You” more than once to the audience for their support. Now if both of these gifted and highly respected veteran can maintain a high level of professionalism and express gratitude to  people who support their artistry then surely Lauryn Hill could at least show up to one of her performances on time every now and then.

It boils down to gratitude and respect in my humble opinion.  No one expects Lauryn Hill to not have human failings and always be on top of her game.  However, those of us who have invested our hard earned money and sacrificed our time to support her artistry at least expect some simple expressions of gratitude beginning with showing up to concerts on time.  To continue to disrespect her audience in this way without any expressed remorse is a slap in the face.  I agree with the author of the article that it’s time for Lauryn’s fans to let go of the old image we have of her from when she released her groundbreaking solo album.  In addition, people need to stop supporting her until she learns how to display appreciation and respect to those who have held her on an undeserved pedestal for so many years.  Lord knows I blew up that pedestal a while ago!

Gratitude

Gratitude Image

 

This month’s blog entry is a result of a couple of experiences that made substantial impressions on me recently. The first is a book by Brene Brown entitled “The Gifts of Imperfection” that I read and discussed as part of a book club I participate in with friends.  One of the major topics covered in the book is gratitude and the importance of exercising it to achieve a wholehearted life. I took what I read to heart and started being more purposeful in expressing my gratitude.  The second point of influence arrived via a “Gratitude Challenge” on Facebook. I was tasked to list three things daily that I was grateful for and the challenge lasted for five days.  It was the perfect outlet for me to put to use what I learned from Brene Brown’s book.  Therefore, I thought it would be a great idea to continue the “Gratitude Challenge” here in my blog since actively expressing gratitude on a consistent basis has already positively affected my life.

  • I am grateful for the opportunity to have performed in a new city and in front of new faces last week in Wilmington, NC.
  • I am grateful for the warmth and love expressed by the audience at the Wilmington, NC gig.
  • I am grateful to the musicians (JC Martin – guitar, Kenny McKeown Phelps – bass, Donovan Cheatham – drums) who poured their soul into the music and helped me bring the music to life in Wilmington, NC.
  • I am grateful to the responsible individuals at the Cameron Art Museum and the Cape Fear Jazz Society who offered me the amazing opportunity to start the JAZZ @ the CAM Music Series.
  • I am grateful for the gifted friends in my life who continue to inspire me to be the best I can be.
  • I am grateful for reaching a point of maturity where I can actively get out of my own way!
  • I am grateful that I have a passion that excites me to no end and that I am able to pursue it every single day.
  • I am grateful for all the love in my life.
  • I am grateful for the simple things in my life such as drinking coffee in the morning while I watch shows on the DVR.
  • I am grateful for my dreams that continue to drive me.

I’ll end this entry by simply suggesting that you make gratitude a daily practice in your life. I promise it will make a difference!

Check Your Ego!

Feed Your Ego Pin

The topic of this blog entry popped in my mind a few days ago after watching one of my favorite reality shows. YES…..I do watch some reality shows. What can I say? Anyway….this particular show follows the lives of a few R&B artists as they work together and take steps to revitalize/grow their respective careers.  I started watching the show because it features artists whose careers I’ve supported over the years. I hoped for no drama, some great singing and a little inspiration; but unfortunately that has not been the case quite often.  I will say the latest round of drama served as a true disappointment for me when something quite ugly appeared once again among these artists……EGO! Now I am realistic and know that everyone has some level of an ego especially in the music industry, but that does not excuse people from not recognizing when their egos are out of order and need to be checked.

Over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of artists/musicians who think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread and don’t mind telling you! I usually find it irritating and/or comical because it’s so absurd.  I do believe to deal with this crazy music industry one has to possess a healthy amount of confidence, but not to the point where it crosses over into “I Am God” territory.  I have an issue when artists buy into the hype and treat others as if they are better than them just because a few people purchased their album or came to their performance.  That type of support can shift quickly and does not speak to the value of you as an artist or person.  Too easily I see artists fall for this skewed reality which results in egotistical individuals whose behavior is often quite horrendous and offensive. I learned years ago that we are all on this journey together and should respect each other as musical equals striving for excellence and longevity.  Maybe I am in the minority on this one, but it is what it is.

On the particular episode of the show I mentioned, a couple of the artists have truly drunken the “Kool-aid” and act as if they are above doing certain things such as singing background vocals for another artist! I honestly was blown away at their behavior because some of the absolute best vocalists/artists in the game have held it down as background vocalists in recording sessions and live shows.  In fact, I just recently saw Academy Award-Winning “20 Feet from Stardom” again which truly reiterated the fact about extraordinary vocalists singing background vocals, i.e. Lisa Fischer and Merry Clayton. Shoot….one of my absolute favorite artists of all time, Luther Vandross, was a legendary background vocalist which led to his solo career. Singing background vocals is an art form all by itself that demands the utmost respect.   I felt the artists on the show should have been honored to share their talents in order to support their fellow artist who is one of the most respected, unique and sought-after vocalists in the industry even after being in the game over twenty years. What happened to camaraderie and sister/brotherhood?

After the episode was over I sat still shaking my head in disappointment.  Maybe my perspective is different on being a working artist/musician, which to me means you check your ego at the door and remain hungry for the opportunity to share your gift.  I do not mean randomly sing at the neighborhood back porch gathering or every time a family member asks you to sing!  A professional artist has to exercise some discretion, but when the opportunity arises to contribute to music of substance, background or leads, one should seize the chance and do their absolute best.  Not only will it possibly introduce you to new listeners/fans, but you never know who in the industry is listening/watching which may lead to additional work. Most people welcome the opportunity to work with an extremely talented vocalist, but the chances to secure steady work increases when people know you are professional, humble and cooperative. To possess this perspective one has to NOT buy into the hype and be consumed with being famous.  An artist needs to love singing, performing, writing, etc. and do it because you have a passion for it.  Those who only do it for the fame usually have quick, fleeting careers because their priority is not about creating timeless music and artistic evolution.

At the end of the day I guess we all get into this music game for different reasons. I undergo reality checks often to remind myself why I have been chosen for this life.  For me it’s for the love of music and to progress the art form, but I am probably in the minority these days.  I just hope those artists out there with serious talent learn how to remain humble, understand the necessity of paying your dues, and not get caught up in a false sense of reality that causes them to belittle others and not honor their blessing. The last thing the music industry needs is another artist with an inflated sense of self creating soulless music. We MUST do better!!!

COL Album Cover FotoFlexer_Version

It has been almost a week since the release of my sophomore album “Colors of Life” and I had to take a moment to reflect. The fact that it has been released is still somewhat surreal to me. I find myself sporadically picking up a copy of the album and reviewing it as if to remind myself that it is not a figment of my imagination! Then as I peruse it I feel a smile form on my face every time because all the dots start to connect and I am reminded that this is MY new baby.

I feel as if I spent half of my life preparing to make this album. LOL I know that’s a bit extreme, but it feels that way just because my life has gone through so many changes since the moment I started thinking about recording a sophomore album a few years ago. I still remember contemplating not ever recording again unless as a guest vocalist on someone else’s project. I was at a crossroads about my music career and questioning if it was worth all the headaches I endured. Well……after this past week I can declare with the utmost certainty that all I persevered through to get to the point of releasing “Colors of Life” was worth it!

Every time I received some encouraging feedback from someone who purchased the album or hear it played on a new radio station I thank God and also those around me who are working hard to make this happen. There is NO way I could do this alone so I am forever grateful to those on my business team who devote their time, talent and wisdom to ensuring my album is a success. When I’ve found myself becoming anxious about how the album would be perceived or if anyone would actually purchase a copy I quickly think of these committed individuals on my team which snaps me back to reality.

Then to top it all off, I was able to share some of the new music this past Saturday at my first CD Release Concert at the Sharp Nine Gallery in Durham, NC. When I tell you the show exceeded my expectations, I am 100% serious! I am not a pessimist, but I was definitely nervous about having a good turnout. People will always say they are coming out to a show, but have found that many tell you that as if it is “the thing” to say, but tend to not follow through. However, I was pleasantly surprised on Saturday when I saw a lot of familiar and new faces in the audience ready to soak in the music. From the first song I could tell people were genuinely “feeling” the music. I saw heads bobbing to the rhythm, people sitting on the edge of their seats and eyes closed in rapture. What a beautiful sight to witness! I felt so privileged to have such a receptive audience at such a crucial show. Then I was super blessed because people also showed their support by actually purchasing copies of not only my new album, but also my first one. A brotha was floored! I can honestly say I left the venue on Cloud Nine pinching myself from time to time to make sure it was all real.

Though the journey continues and we have much more work to promote “Colors of Life”, I travel it proudly prepared for the mountains AND the valleys. Shoot….the valleys make one appreciate the mountains SO much more. The release of “Colors of Life” epitomizes this bit of wisdom perfectly. As a matter of fact, I titled this entry “Finally” after the last song on my new record. It captures my overall sentiment perfectly. Take a listen. THANKS for all the love for my new record everyone.

Return to the Stage

Last weekend proved to be a memorable one for me. I performed for the first time at a venue in Raleigh. It’s a wonderful café with a welcoming staff and some of the most delicious, fresh food that will make you hurt someone. I honestly had some trepidation about doing the gig because it had been a while since I last performed and the gig was scheduled to last 5 ½ hours! Yes….I said 5 ½ hours! LOL That fact alone had me shaking my head a little beforehand, but I’m always up for a good challenge IF it makes sense. Let me just say that I’m grateful I decided to do it.

I worked with all new musicians except for one who remains one of my favorite musicians to work with period. We practiced a “truck load” of music during rehearsal so I was praying to God that we’d get through everything at the gig without “crashing and burning.” Thankfully the guys jumped knee-deep into the music from the first note and breathed precious life into the songs. We had several funny moments during our three 90 minute sets including being told a couple of times to lower the volume as not to distract the people eating dinner. The beautiful part was that the patrons eating dinner WANTED to hear us play and even stayed for extended periods after they finished eating. I was amazed to look down and see some of the same faces at the end of the second set that I saw during our first set. Not to mention people actually clapped for us without being prompted and then showed us the ultimate “Thank You” by filling up the tip jar.

One of my favorite moments of the night occurred towards the end of the second set when the wait staff cleared away the chairs and tables in front of the stage. Next thing I know there were a few couples dancing joyously to our rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.” I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. The musicians and I smiled to one another as we all agreed that we never considered that particular tune a danceable one. However, it was heart-warming to see people so touched by the music that they HAD to get on their feet and dance. That moment signified success for the band in my opinion. We continued to play and have a consistent group of folks on the floor dancing. I think I smiled about 80% of the time watching them enjoy themselves.

Overall I had an extremely positive experience returning to the stage after my hiatus. I was elated that my voice endured such a long gig and that the musicians eagerly joined me in infusing our souls into the music to transport the audience someplace special. I ended my night with the booking agent for the venue asking me to pick a date to come back and perform again! I couldn’t ask for a better ending to a fun-filled night of swinging, honest music.