Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Conversation with Yvonne Lewis

Dr Yvonne Lewis wears many hats, from Cable channel executive, to being an accomplished musician, to being a doctor and entrepreneur.. I was first aware of her immense gift when I head her doing back up for Luther Vandross, and later releasing her wildly popular debut CD back in the nineties. Fast forward YEARS later, and I have been privileged to have an edition of Conversations with her. 

Where do we start? I’m glad we finally get a chance to do this. To introduce yourself to the readers, who would you say Yvonne Lewis is?

That’s an interesting question, because I have so many facets, kind of like an onion—multi-layered. I’m a Christian black woman who is a wife, mother, singer, Christian television executive, and author. This isn’t necessarily the correct order, but you get the picture.

I completely understand. I became acquainted with you from your first CD, “No strangers in Paradise” (1995), available on iTunes. The heart and beauty of it, along with the message of it, as well as it being so contemporary arrested me. That must seem like light years ago. What do you remember about making that CD?

(One of the songs on the cd)

It DOES seem like such a long time ago! There are several things that stand out about that project for me. Probably what’s most prominent in my mind was the fact that I was going through a devastating time in my personal life. My home was in foreclosure, I was a single (divorced) mother, and I was being forced to leave. I had owed the IRS a lot of money, and they were garnishing my residuals (from the jingles that I’d recorded), and leaving me with less than what I could survive on. I didn’t know where I was going to go. So, on that CD when I recorded “God Will Make a Way”, I was singing it to myself, encouraging myself that He would take care of me, just as He always had. It’s funny. During the hours of recording, I was having a blast praising God! My spiritual mentor, Pastor CA Murray, would come to the studio and hang out. I truly didn’t even think about my situation until I would travel home from the studio at night. It was then that I would think about my financial condition. But the Lord kept me so occupied during the day, that I wasn’t depressed. I was elated in Him! The second thing that stands out is the caliber of musicians and singers that helped me on the project. My producer, Dana Reed, and arranger, Jerry Hutchinson (whose name never appeared on the cover, due to an error on my and Dana’s part), were so talented! Then, my background singer friends came and helped me. Singers like Luther Vandross, Cissy Houston, Tawatha Agee, Vaneese Thomas, Frank and Babi Floyd, James (D-Train) Williams, Diva Gray, Dennis Collins, Fonzi Thornton, etc. What a line-up of talent! We all had fun, and could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the studio. It was anointed!

Wow! That's an incredible testimony! To think your life appeared to be falling apart literally by forces beyond your control, yet in the midst of it, you birthed a project that captured so much hope and promise. That actually is speaking volumes to me right now. Thank you.
By the way, awesome line up of name dropping. Lol 😃
Moving forward to this most recent recording of yours, “Magnify him” (2017), what would you say has changed compared to your previous recording?

(Exclusively available to purchase on her cable network's ONLINE STORE)

My experience with this current project is very different from my first one. I am no longer involved in the NY background/studio scene, although I still love and cherish my friends there. I am currently the General Manager of 3ABN’s urban network, “Dare to Dream”. Therefore, I have a stable income and a more settled life. My husband, Danny Shelton, is the President and Founder of 3ABN, and what a blessing he is to my life! This CD has several of the songs that I have previously recorded for 3ABN with large, lush orchestral arrangements, and probably demonstrates a bit more versatility in vocal style than did my first CD. I guess the listeners will have to determine that.

(Learn more about the network)

(Performing one of her tracks from her new CD "Magnify Him" 2017)

I most definitely second the vocal versatility demonstrated. Sandi Patty has always been one of my favorite singers because of the pure voice, and how it builds up in the song into a stratospheric climax in that high note. So I was pleasantly thrilled to hear you do something similar so effortlessly. What can you tell us about your musical training and journey to this point? Obviously you have mileage in your musical pedigree.

I honestly didn’t have much formal musical training. When I was in college, I studied for one semester with Alleyne Dumas-Lee, a wonderful soprano, who gave me arias in German and Italian to sing. In New York, I had a great vocal coach, Martin Lawrence, who helped me with vocal “blending” (moving from one vocal register to the next). Other than that, virtually no additional vocal training. I grew up in a musical household. My parents both sang, but my Dad had an unparalleled love for singing. He was a real crooner in his day. My maternal grandmother was a coloratura soprano, who gave concerts internationally. My aunt, Carol Thomas, was a wonderful singer and pianist. My paternal grandmother had a strong soprano voice. My uncle, Howard Hodge, was a very successful pianist/arranger, who arranged charts for singers like Tom Jones, Helen Reddy, Freda Payne, and even the actress, Kathryn Hepburn. Music was in my family. It’s in my DNA.

Um, I think you are modestly downplaying the wealth of training learned in just one semester, especially if you were able to do arias in German and Italian.
With this CD project of yours, I noticed the CD has a very specific intention of exalting and celebrating the greatness of God, hence the well-fitting title, Magnify Him. What would you like to share with us regarding the concept, vision and making of this CD?

Yes! The whole idea of this project is to magnify the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I sing, I always try to bring the listener with me into the presence of God through worship. It is to worship the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe. The Giver and Sustainer of all life! The music isn’t to point to me as the singer. It is to be a vertical experience. Not horizontal. Therefore, when I sing, “Your Grace Still Amazes Me” and “Just Once More”, I’m inviting the listener to worship the Lord with me, and to thank Him for the grace and love that He shows even when we don’t deserve it. The title song, “Magnify Him” has an interesting story attached to it. On Dare to Dream, we have a music program by the same name. We needed a song for the program, so I asked the Lord to give me a song for it, and He did! He gave me the lyrics and the tune! Now, I don’t consider myself a great songwriter, but the Lord did it! He gave me the whole song, and it’s the theme song for the program, and the name of the CD. God is amazing!

Let’s segue for a minute. You dabbled into Eastern unorthodox medicine in the past. What exactly did you invest into, and what attracted you to it?
In the 90’s, I developed a passion for alternative medicine! I loved the study of herbs and supplements, and could name a natural alternative to many of the pharmaceuticals that were on the market. As a jingle singer, I had a lot of “down time”, in which I wasn’t working. So, I decided to pursue alternative medicine. I am a driven person, and whatever I get involved with, I throw myself into. I became a naturopathic doctor, massage therapist, certified reflexologist, iridologist, and auriculotherapist. I later studied acupuncture and was licensed and board certified in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I had a medical practice in Dallas for 5 years. What attracted me to it? Honestly, as I look back on it, I realize that my pride had a lot to do with it. I loved the idea that I could just touch someone’s hand, and their headache would vanish! I enjoyed knowing things that others didn’t know, and my pride led me to study and explore all of these modalities. I wanted to be the best at it, both for my patients’s sake, as well as my own.

You eventually transitioned from that practice. What did you discover that led to this change?

Minister Kenneth, believe it or not, you had a part to play in my departure from TCM! Several years ago, you reached out to me about “Just Once More”, a song from my “No Strangers in Paradise” CD. When I told you that I practiced acupuncture, you asked me how I could reconcile that with my Christianity. I was a bit miffed, but I thought about it. The Lord also led me to some resources that absolutely convinced me that I was to turn away from acupuncture. It is based on astrology, which is forbidden to us Christians. Once I realized that He was calling me out of it, I dropped it, and God has shown Himself to be more than faithful ever since!

I am humbled to think I was part of the process. And I remember that conversation. Lol. In my unfiltered manner, I unsolicitedly share my opinion. And I would dare say your response back to me didnt suggest you were a "little" miffed. Hahaha! 
Anyway, moving along. You currently are a broadcaster in an urban Christian cable network, and an executive. Congratulations! That’s an awesome platform. Please tell us more about this new chapter in your career, and how you got on this amazing journey?

It HAS been an amazing journey! You see, when I left acupuncture, which was 95% of my income, I finished a book that I had begun called, “GREAT DAYS: 9 Principles to Revolutionize Your Life”. When I finished the book, my spiritual mentor, C.A. Murray, who was working at 3ABN, invited me to come there for an interview on their flagship program, “3ABN Today”. I gladly went, and Pastor C.A. had another engagement off site. He asked the President and Founder of the network, Danny Shelton, to do the interview. He also told him that since I wasn’t familiar with the area, would he take me to lunch. Hmmm. I think maybe he had an agenda, don’t you? Anyway, Danny Shelton and I hit it off from the outset! Over time, he talked with me about my heart for the inner city, and felt impressed that I should be the head of 3ABN’s urban network. Look at God! If I hadn’t left acupuncture, I wouldn’t have had the most outstanding ministry career of my lifetime! AND I have the greatest husband in the world, because I married Danny Shelton!

(Introducing Yvonne and her family)

Seems it was divinely orchestrated for you guys to be.......through the not so subtle introduction by your mentor! Lol. 
What programs do produce, and how do viewers worldwide watch them?

The Lord impressed me to identify the challenges confronting inner-city residents, and then to design programming that addresses those concerns. Therefore, we have programs on relationships and parenting (“RD 2 Romance”,“Pumped Up Parents”, “A Father’s Heart”, “Live to Be Well”), health and lifestyle (“A Taste of Paradise”, “Chew’s Challenge”, and “Creative Cooking”), employment (“Workin’ the Dream”), a program for ex-offenders, hosted by an ex-offender (“The New Journey”), music (“Magnify Him”), and much, much more! Our most popular program is “Salvation in Symbols and Signs”, our prophecy program, where we learn about the books of Revelation and Daniel. We literally receive at least one email every day about it. 
There are several ways to watch D2D. It is streamed 24/7 online. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can download the 3ABN app, click on the “D”, and voila! Or, you can purchase a Roku Box, and watch D2D on your TV. Additionally, we have a YouTube channel where you can watch many of our programs on demand.

That's awesome! A lot of original programming!
What should we look forward to from you this year?

Dare to Dream is producing some great new programs this year! We are putting a new teen program together, which will address some major concerns of our urban teens. We also are continuing to produce our prophecy program (“Salvation in Symbols and Signs”), which is our most popular program. We completed the Book of Revelation, now we’ll focus on Daniel. Musically speaking, I’m currently working on a music project for 3ABN that includes multiple artists and flavors. The theme is the 3 Angels Messages of Revelation 14. It’s a joy to work with some of the top producers, arrangers and artists in the gospel music industry. I also am doing more song writing this year, and am amazed at the way the Lord inspires! I recently co-wrote a song with my friend, Tim Parton, called “Your Love Lifts Me Up”. It’s about how I let the Lord down. I was losing my way, but Jesus’s love lifted me up and removed all doubt, fear and shame.
God literally impressed me with the lyrics in a morning, and gave Tim a melody for it about an hour after I sent him the lyrics.  I cry every time I hear the song.

Indeed! Thank God for his mercies and consistent faithfulness to us. I look forward to hearing this song, as well as the other musical projects you have cooking.
I saw an interview of you with your son. Can you tell us more about your family?

I’ve already told you about my wonderful husband, Danny. He has blessed me with his two daughters, Melody and Trinity (now mine), and I brought my two sons into the family. Melody is a wonderful wife, mother, singer and song-writer. Trinity is a straight-A student, who’s graduating from high school this year. My sons are very special young men! They love the Lord, and have amazing testimonies of their own. They both had some problems in their youth, but God has really turned their lives around. My older son, Marc, continues to move forward with his life. Marc just completed his vocational training, and is looking forward to new employment opportunities. My younger son, Jason, is my assistant at Dare to Dream. He is often featured on various programs on D2D, as well as 3ABN parent network. It’s a privilege to see my kids grow into their divine destiny. Between us, Danny and I have 10 grandchildren, and others that we consider “our kids”.  I’m proud and thankful for all of them!

The miracle is when the problem child is transformed into a blessing. We know then it is strictly a God thing, and he alone gets the glory!
What last words would you like to share with our readers, especially this season when most people are making commitments to change and aspirations?

Be sure to include God in the mix! You can save yourself so much time and energy that way. Think about it: you have the all-knowing, all-powerful God who longs for you to know Him better. He wants to bless your socks off. Are you standing in the way of your own blessings? Are you making time for God? Trust Him to see you through every situation. He’ll ALWAYS have your back!

Thank you, Dr Yvonne Lewis for your time given to this conversation


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Conversation with Ivan Thompson

Ivan Thompson is a Veteran,  Actor, Singer, and Entrepreneur. Below is the conversation I had with him

Ivan! It's certainly a pleasure to have this conversation with you. How would you describe yourself to the readers?

I am a singer of inspirational music and love songs. I am an author. I am an actor. I am a father of five. I am active volunteering in the local community and with my local church. At this point in my life, 52, I’m trying to develop every unfulfilled dream that the Lord has placed in my heart.

Wow! You have a full life! Congratulations. What do you do for a living?

I am retired military officer, and I recently left a full-time work to pursue all of the areas I mentioned previously. So I am in full hustle mode now. I write books, seven in the past eight months with three more to go. I act. I just completed a Budweiser commercial last month. I rent rooms out of my house. I substitute teach. It’s been a challenge I may have to return to a 9-5 but I am doing everything I can to keep working for myself.

(A commercial that Ivan is featured in)

That’s all cylinders burning brother! It can’t be easy launching out into the deep, but here’s praying your hard work pays off.What would you say you are passionate about? 

I’m passionate about helping people pursue their dreams, to get started in things that they really want to do—especially young people. Two of the last three books I have written fall into this category. I volunteer once a week at the local Goodwill Career Center. It’s the highlight of my week as I get to help older people sharpen resumes and interview skills and younger people try to find their niche in life.

I've known you for YEARS now, and it wasn't until recently I came across your music on iTunes. And I was impressed. It appears you have a music repertoire, so can you take us to how you got started?

I have been singing since I was about ten and have dreamed about singing before large audiences since I was about four. I had the lead in a musical theater production in 9th grade and have been focused on pursuing recording and performing opportunities ever since.

What would you say was your first big break?

I performed on Bobby Jones Gospel in 1987 and I thought man that was it! Then in 2008 and 2009 I performed the National Anthem for the Lakers. That opportunity opened doors for me to sing for the NFL, MLB, WNBA, NHL, NASCAR, and the NCAA.

(Ivan singing National Anthem at a Laker's game)

Everyone has a dream as a child. What was yours?

I have three very vivid dreams from as far back as I can remember. The first two are giving away large sums of money and the second is fighting the devil. The dream of singing came in somewhere later.

Fighting the devil? Awesome! That would mean you love praying, since that’s one of the ways we can effectively disarm the devil. As a child how did you learn to pray?

I didn’t know anything about prayer as a child. I became a Christian in college and really didn’t know anything about prayer and communion with God until I became Spirit-filled and read books like “Practicing the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence and “Good MorningHoly Spirit” by Benny Hinn.

You were in the military. How did that influence and shape you? And did it help redefine your dream, or not?

I went to a military academy for four years and then spent 24 additional years in the Air Force. So for 28 years I wore a blue uniform. I think my military experience gave me a broader more diverse view of the world having worked with people of different races and having the opportunity to see different parts of the world. I think military service has made me more disciplined, more appreciative of the sacrifices of the military. I lived part of my dream in the military. I performed all over the country and Europe as Tour Director and lead male vocalist for the Air Force’s Tops in Blue Entertainment Team. I was able to share my vocal talent with multiplied thousands. In my uniform I went to inner city high schools and encouraged kids and young adults to spend time investing in themselves, discovering their talents and abilities and making the most of their time in high school. I was able to give time and money in the communities where I served in the local church. My Air Force retirement has given me a level of security that most up-and-coming entertainers don’t have. My retirement helps fund my dreams. My experience in the military has also shaped my music in that I have written several military tribute songs and patriotic music is a key piece of my repertoire.

You are a believer in the Gospel message. How did that happen, and how has the journey been?

I became a Christian in the military academy I was attending, around my sophomore year. I was heavily influenced by some friends. Initially I was on fire for God and my zeal masked some issues that it has taken the Lord decades to finally get to. So I feel at times that I have taken steps backward but in reality God has finally been able to get to some root issues that cause me great pain even after being a Christian since 1983. I used to mask that pain with a flurry of church activity, work-aholism, five kids and wife. Now that my kids are gone and I am divorced, God finally has me in a place where He can do his deepest work. It’s scary at times. I thank God for Christian friends and groups like Celebrate Recovery to help keep me stable as I get to the root of issues that go all the way back to childhood.

Yeah, we all have issues that we are working on. You mention masking pain with the flurry of church. I’m sure a lot of readers may identify with this. Can you speak more on how easy it is to use religious and church activities to form a façade, and completely mask and drown underlying issues that need to be addressed?

I wouldn’t use the word façade in my case. I remember almost 20 years ago the Holy Spirit told me to quit everything that I was doing in the church, to stop serving in every area that I was serving. I didn’t understand it but I knew it was his voice. When I did I was so empty and I felt I had nothing. That’s when Holy Spirit said you’re right you don’t have anything because your entire relationship with God consisted of what you were doing in church and not in your intimate fellowship with Him. It’s the whole story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10

You mention that your issues caused you great pain. Do you think this “pain” is ever revealed or expressed in your artistic expressions for? 

I don’t think it’s right to channel pain into Christian music. Let me explain. I think we are supposed to be led by the Spirit when we minister in song just like we would if we were preaching. I’ve seen a lot of people minister in song by getting caught up in their emotions and then leading people to move in their emotions. While I think our emotions will always be involved, I believe if we lead people by the Spirit we will we take them to a different place in the Spirit than we would have in our emotions—especially sad ones. To me that’s blues music

You make a great point about being led by the Spirit in how we minister.
5 kids! You must be a proud father of your kids accomplishments…..?

Very proud of my kids and their accomplishments and I take the time to promote them every chance I get. Three are doing very well in Hollywood as a make-up artist, hair stylist and fashion stylist/jewelry line designer. The other two are in college doing very well

That's awesome! Congratulations!!
Speaking of accomplishments, as a professional singer, does your faith define and influence your choices and decision making?

Absolutely. My faith plays a major role in the type of lyrics I would sing and the type of venues and settings I feel comfortable in. It’s kind of odd because I sing love songs too. Not songs about illicit sex but love songs, kind of like the love songs from the 80s (Luther, Stevie, Lionel Richie, James Ingram, Jeffrey Osborn) when you could sing about love and not mean casual sex. The same also holds true for me as an actor. But because of the nature of the industry it has made it difficult for me to navigate the music industry. On the flip side I don’t like singing gospel music that is not based on the Word or singing in gospel setting where they are singing “for show” or where the people’s offstage lifestyles are totally contradictory to what they are singing. When I experience that I figure I might as well be singing secular music in that secular artists are more honest about their lifestyle than some Christian artists I have worked around. I’m in that same boat. I want to live a life that reflects what I sing or not sing at all. I certainly haven’t always lived up to that and am seeking help everywhere I can so that my songs match my life.

Some puritanical Christians believe secular music is just that, regardless if it is general love songs or not. How would you explain to them that singing or loving old skool R&B songs doesn’t contradict your spiritual convictions?

I think everyone has to come to their own convictions and draw their own lines. Take Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”.  That’s my favorite secular album of all time. Several of those songs have been performed as gospel songs. For me personally I don’t feel comfortable singing songs about graphic sexual activity, sex outside marriage, or song with profanity. However I don’t think the devil should be allowed to corner the market on love songs and have 100% ownership of how the airwaves define love.

Do you have any new music project you are working on?

I just released my first three gospel songs. One is an original song entitled “I Want It All” and it’s a song the Lord gave me about moving closer to Him with my heart vs. just my words. I also did a gospel remake of the finale song “Home” from the musical “The Wiz”. I have been wanting to record that song for forever it seems. But it’s finally done and it is really good! Finally, I did a cover song, or my rendition of the song “I Need You Now” originally performed by Smokey Norful. I think people will like it. All of my music is available on iTunes and

(Released Oct 2016 available on iTunes)

(Released May 2017. Available on iTunes)

You are also a writer? How did you get into writing, and what do you write about?

Kenneth I write the things the Lord puts on my heart. In the Old Testament, the prophets would get a word from the Lord or a prophetic burden. Ideas for books come to me that way. My first book was a burden about diversity in the highest levels of the Air Force. It’s called “The Air Force’s Black Ceiling”. The Lord would not let me drop the idea. Every time I would come to Him about what goals He wanted me to focus on, He would say finish the book. I can see now why. Hundreds of copies have been sold touching people all over the country and set the stage for the sequel that I am writing now. I have written a book for Christian businessmen, "25 Essential Bible Verses For Christian Business Leaders". A book called “Increasing YourSkills and Abilities in Any Area- Hidden Bible Secrets to Success” which shares my secrets to songwriting and how I have written seven books in eight months. I wrote a book called “You Should- Distractions and Detours to Divine Destiny” which is a book that talks about how in the midst of your search for divine purpose you have all these people in your life saying “you should” do this or that. I have written a book on fitness and I have a book on Confidence coming out at the end of the month. I have three other titles that I plan to finish before the end of August: “Finding Next—A Book of Divine Seasons”, “The Air Force’s Black Pilot Training Experience” and “25 Essential Bible Verses for Fathers”. All of my books, e-books and audiobooks can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

(These are just 2 of his books. See links above, and search his name titles in the various listed markets above)

Wow! You indeed have been very busy, and are going on all cylinders, brother! May God bless your endeavors.
Let's segue to your personal life. You are a father; can you tell us more about your life as a father, and possibly share some sage words?

I am a father of five. We had a blended family, his, hers and ours. I could write a whole book giving you sage words in fact I am! Look for it in July, “25 Essential Bible Verses forFathers” and look for a chapter I wrote on guiding your kids into their divine purpose in the book “You Should”. I will say this though, you need the anointing of God to be a good father. You need the discernment and leading of the Holy Ghost to discover God’s purpose for your child and to guide them toward it. You need the Holy Ghost to have patience and show love and to overcome your own weaknesses as you model Christian living before your kids. I made a lot of mistakes in front of my kids, some which led to divorce from their mom. It has taken every bit of the grace of God to recover from that and still impact the direction of their lives. Get the book.

Speaking of making mistakes, how do you come to terms with mistakes you have made, especially if you disappointed people looking up to you, and embarrassed people who were vouching for you?

It’s been rough coming to terms with some of my mistakes but I follow the example of David. He sinned, repented and got up and moved on. He asked God to create in him a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within him versus going in the corner paralyzed and useless because of his past sins. If God can forgive me and I can forgive me then too bad for anyone else that decides not to

Amen to that brother! You're preaching for real! As Christians, some of us, if not all of us, have a testimony to share. Do you have one to share?

My complete testimony is not ready for prime time. I’m not sure when that day will come but it will. The early manifestation of my testimony is seen in part in the lives of my kids, in my music, my military career, my acting credits and all my recent books. I have overcome so much in my life, especially as a child that it is miraculous that I am still here.

Rofl @ ""complete testimony not being ready for prime time. Is it that hardcore, too raw and real for church folks to handle, or still a work in progress?

I don’t feel led to answer this question.

Fair enough, I'm sure we can read between the lines.
So as incredibly talented as you are, what do you see yourself accomplishing in the near future?

Thanks for the compliment Kenneth. I think I have only started to scratch the surface. I believe God wants me to share my talents on a national level and beyond. That’s acting, singing, writing, speaking, consulting. I’m laying the groundwork in all these areas now and God is helping me to restore the years the locust and the cankerworm have eaten to give me enough time to accomplish the success He has shown me in dreams all the way back to age four. Thanks for selecting me for this interview.

You’re welcome, Ivan. And I pray that God would perfect what he has begun in you, and use you to the glory of his name.
Do you have any last words to readers who may have a past, have made mistakes, or given up on pursuing their dreams?

You can’t use your mistakes as an excuse to be like the one talent man in the parable of the talents and hide your talent in the ground. You will give an account to God for what you did with the talents and the assignment He gave you. Abraham, Moses and David all made huge mistakes, deliberate sins but moved on to do great things for God

Visit Ivan's website Launch Productions to learn more about him, his vision, passion and outreach

Friday, June 9, 2017

Conversation with Duane Moody

Duane Moody is an Associate Professor of Voice at Berklee College of Music, Boston MA, is a principal artist with the "Three Mo' Tenors", is a professional vocal musician, among other accomplishments. Below is my conversation with him.

Great to have this conversation with you. There’s so much I want to cover, so let’s just dive into it. Have you always wanted to be an opera singer? Would you call yourself an opera singer?

No, I have not always wanted to be an opera singer, but when I started to take voice lessons at the age of 13, I understood what opera was all about and grew to realize that I had the chops to try and obtain success in that genre of music. I would call myself a professional vocalist who specializes in many different genres of music.

"You understood what opera is all about". For us newbies, what is opera about?

Opera is life. The difference, is that opera is delivered through the art form of music and lyrics combined in a way that takes you on a journey. All of that depends on whether or not the production is any good as well. You can have an elaborate Zeffirelli production or a minimalist approach to the same opera and have the same effect, because the message truly is in the music of the art form of opera. Opera is fantasy. You can take yourself on a journey through whimsical lands that you've possibly only read in books. Opera is history. There are several operas that are written based on an historical context. If one allows themselves to open up to the inclusion of the European style of classical music, combined with other genres of music that have yet to be infused into the operatic realm, opera in itself, can take on a new life of it's own. But, of course, for anything to be sold to the masses, they must be educated on the basics, and with music being on the bottom of the totem pole in our public education, I fear that art forms like opera will soon die out.

How did you become an opera singer?

I became an opera singer through my training and eventually through me getting hired by different companies to perform that style. I just happened to step into this style. I was raised on Motown, Funk, House Music, Gospel and R&B, so for me to think that I could become an opera singer was truly a dream because there was nothing in my upbringing that inspired me to become an opera singer.

As a kid, I was so impressed with watching Handel’s Messiah being done by some choir on tv, and was amazed the human voice could sound so other worldly! What do you find amazing about being an opera singer?

The strength. The beauty. The agility. The costumes. The orchestra. The chorus. The stagehands. The Production Crew. I mean what is there that is not amazing when one speaks of opera? {smile} But in all honesty if I had to narrow this question down to one answer, I would have to say the music. The music is what gives the voice the life. Without the music, I would be obsolete. Without the music the term opera would be null, along with many other varieties of music that we enjoy today. So yeah, the music. And the ability of the music to tell the story and with me being the vessel that carries the words, I had to learn how to become a part of that musical style that was not really a part of my spirit. That, for me, a kid from the ‘hood, was a bit difficult to grasp, but I figured that out {laughs}.

Speaking of music, are you a musician? What instruments do you play?

As a vocalist I'm a musician. Never understood this discussion that vocalists aren't musicians and that musicians are only instrumentalists. But hey, an educational moment. I do play other instruments though, as a musician. I play the piano. I used to play the trombone, the french horn and the baritone horn. Those instruments were played in middle school. Singing took over when I went to high school. Mainly b/c I felt more of a  passion from the vocal music educators than the band educator

Other singers of other genre of music feel just as passionate about their genre. Out of all the genre of music, why does opera connect with you so much?

Why not opera? I get that from the Black community all the time, especially in my family. “Why opera? Why not an R&B album or Gospel album?” (yes, album) {laughing}. Now, I understand why that question would pop up which can be stemmed from the latter part of my answer above. Opera is not a part of who I am as a Black American/Descendant of a slave, in my experience growing up. But see, my Mother always wanted a vast educational/life experience for me and my sister’s lives. My Father was just along for the ride {snickers}, but he learned too. But anyway, opera was something I stumbled on because I took voice lessons. I just wanted to learn how to sing better, because I knew I could sing, but I also knew that I wanted to learn the fundamentals. Getting the fundamentals meant learning the “proper” way to sing. Well, as I learned how to produce that European Classical traditional sound, I fell in love with how I was producing that sound. Little did I know what kind of competition I was going to be up against in this genre not dominated by Black American influence. Looking back, I should have gone the route of my culture. But hey, I’ve had a great career as a classical singer.

Hahaha! Yeah, you are in a field that doesn't really have a lot of African Americans in it. Tough choice! LOL!!
As a trained singer, do you do other genres? I remember seeing a video of you killing a Bob Marley song. You were amazing!

Thanks. I appreciate that. And yes, I sing so many different genres it’ll make your head spin. That’s the fortunate instance in learning how to sing well. Even though I had to learn how to produce that European Traditional Classical sound, I learned how to take that technique and apply that technique to the many other styles of singing that I grew up with and was always around in high school, i.e., R&B, Gospel, Soul, Funk & House Music. Little did I know that me applying that technique would be a benefit to my career when I was asked to be a part of the ‘Three Mo’ Tenors’. We sang at least 8 to 10 different genres of music every time we sang. We were ferocious.

I know! You guys were awesome! How long were you with them?

I'm still with them. Albeit we haven't had a solid performance for almost 2 years, I'm still, technically, a member of Three Mo' Tenors. So It's been 10 years now.

I listened to your CD on iTunes, and I believe that’s what drew me to reach out to you. What can you tell us about that CD?

Check out his CD on iTunes

Well, ‘Sur Mon Voyage’ is definitely a labor of love. Self-produced and self-marketed, this is just one of the many projects that I intend on releasing. I just wish I had more resources to get the word out in regard to getting people to purchase the project. And with that I thank you for giving me this outlet to promote my project. This particular project is done in collaboration with Dr. R. Timothy McReynolds, who is one of the pre-eminent pianists here in the Baltimore/Washington, DC Metropolitan area. The pieces that we are doing span many centuries in regard to different styles of classical music (yes we actually have different styles of music in classical, similar to different styles of gospel). We start with Mozart then go on down the line to Franz Liszt then turn into the period of Verdi then into early 20th century with Richard Strauss (late romantic/Modern era) and ending with an homage to the Negro Spiritual (The Black American Art Song) entitled The Carter Cantata (late 20th century). Now that piece (The Carter Cantata) has never been recorded with full orchestra, from what I understand. I hope to submit that opportunity to an orchestra and hope they bite.

What gravitated you to these particular songs for your labor of love project?

The beauty of Strauss. The difficulty of Mozart. The familiarity of The Carter Cantata. Personal choice. Uuum, most of those songs have been in my repertoire for over 20 years, but as I grow as a vocal musician I begin to interpret the music differently as I mature. Even now, those songs that I have on that CD are sung much better almost 2 years later. 

I noticed that you have several collaborations on iTunes. What helps you decide which artist to collab with?

Normally whomever is paying the bills is the one who decides who collaborates with whom (laughing). The only project that I've had sole control over is my classical recording 'Sur Mon Voyage...' and in choosing the collaborator for that, Dr. Reynolds and I have worked together on many different concerts together, as well as many recitals in the past, so he was one of my first choices. I do plan on doing future productions with other musicians that I've worked with in the past. Usually I collaborate with people that I've worked with in the past and have enjoyed working with. Let's just say I haven't worked with most people that I've worked with in the past (laughing)... Hell, they don't wanna work with me anyway...I've tried to get into their productions to no avail. The trials of someone who has always been honest with the people I confront... I've created a lot of silent/smiling frenemies.

Rofl! That's a trip! Opera drama of making frenemies. Hahaha!
So although I don’t consider myself eloquent in classical and opera music genre, Luciano Pavarotti was someone I was into. He was a beast with his singing. And the incomparable Jessye Norman is one I have even purchased her music. Who helped inspire, shape and define your musical identity as a singer?

I would have to say that my teachers, the good and the one bad, who helped to shape the identity of my sound. From Mr. Samuel Lee Bonds, who taught me how to breathe, to Ms. Beatrice Krebs, who taught me what not to do (may she rest in peace), to Mr. Wayne Conner who taught me how to get that tenor squeal in my sound and to the great Phyllis Curtin (may she rest in peace) who taught me the mental aspect of singing that I didn’t realize until 10 years after I stopped studying with her. I’ve had many coaches that I’ve worked with who have been instrumental with developing my sound, but especially Dr. Mark Markham who really helped me to bring everything together with the voice you hear today at 46. I’m still working on my sound as we give this interview today. I never stop learning. Now as far as inspirations, I would have to say, for me, Leontyne Price. I saw her on television doing a commercial for The United Negro College Fund in the 80’s and that helped me to realize that perhaps I could do this for a living. Of course I have sung with many greats on many great stages around the world, and many of them, some of whom have passed on, are truly inspirations to me, especially Samuel Clark Stevenson and Jerris Cates.

Speaking of singing with greats, lets get superficial for a minute. Are there any celebrity opera singers or musicians you would love to work with?

Unfortunately, no. The art form has become such a joke. Everything just seems to be so affected and put on. No one takes risks. All they rely on is gimmickry. Even the singers who actually have voices. Just because one is able to take their shirt off doesn’t mean they can sing the art form of opera well. Unfortunately, we live in a very visual society and the appreciation of the art form is fleeting and all too many care about is celebrity. Celebrity helps marketability which helps capitalism (people buying things they don’t need). {smile} Honestly, I would love to work with Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Anne Nesby (who opened for me when I was singing with 3 Mo’ Tenors), Maureen McGovern, etc….  And if I had to choose an opera singer who is “famous”…..the more I think about that, I know all I need to do is call on my colleagues. They are some of the best non-famous singers in the business of opera.

As with almost other genre of music - some of the best singers are the non-famous ones.
As a black man singing opera, where do you see yourself?

Working. Thankfully, I am employed at Berklee College of Music as an Associate Professor of Voice. I’ve been there for 10 years. Me working there has not infringed on my performing schedule, thankfully, but this opportunity does allow me the flexibility to come back to DC and look after my Mom, who is a stroke survivor. I plan on releasing some more projects in the future. A jazz project with a trio, and hopefully a project with full orchestra. Again, these projects cost and are not inexpensive. And no, I’m not a GoFundMe kind of person {laughs}.

That's a very noble thing you are doing, looking after your mom. My regards to her, and here's hoping the best for her.
Hold up! No GoFundMe for you? Not even if a bunch of us are ready to give towards your project? Lol

If that were the case I'd have project after project released by now. Look...I know a few millionaires, and I've been introduced to people who supposedly have the ability to make me a star. I'm not sure what the deal is, maybe my mouth is just too damn big, but no one is  knocking down my door to promote me or any of my projects. I'm in this thing on my own. I've sent former producers, Facebook friends and the like (all millionaires or people who know them) my screenplays and my ideas for shows and...nothing. Not even after my debut with The Boston Pops would anyone touch me. I even had a well-established talent agency tell me that things looked pretty good in regard to my career...(blank stare) I had one instance where a producer in the UK asked me what type of singing "gives me joy". When I wrote back and said that singing gives me joy, give me a song from any genre and I'll sing that song...I never heard from the man again.  BS I tell you...  Pure bull#@*t. When you realize that you're really on your own, financially, unless you support a certain ideology of capitalism or play this simple a#* game, you begin to look at life and how you market yourself differently. I know I don't have the wealth to market myself to make myself famous. I'm comfortable with that. I understand my lineage as a descendant of a slave as a Black American. Unfortunately, as I used to, too many spend too much time striving for something that one in a million only get (and that number is probably generous). And usually that one 'lucky' person does everything not to teach Black America (the ones that are left behind still struggling, surviving, hoping and praying) about how this system really works or doing anything to build community wealth.

You have said a mouthful right there, Professor. And you may be right, as you said in your own words, you may have a "big mouth". But that's what makes you your authentic self.

What do you love most about being a Professor of Voice at one of the world's premier college for music?

The time that I have with my students. I learn so much from them. I learn so much about our broken society. And in learning these things and all these people from different walks of life throughout the world, I become a better person in how I pass on my knowledge to future musicians. I love the fact that I am surrounded by an enormous amount of talent in our students. This pushes me to become a better educator. To give to my students that something more that I didn't have in my education. And baby, that's a lot, because I received a fierce education from my humble beginnings in SE, Washington, DC through the public school system (Simon Elementary, Hart Middle School and F. W. Ballou SHS), to my three degrees from The Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University and The Boston University. I got some of the best tutelage. All I can do now is educate people to know that just because you get educated doesn't mean you have to forget who you are. You just have to learn how to work your show in adapting to all types of cultures and environments throughout this world while staying true to ones ideology. That's what's missing in our educational system today. Access to know that there is a whole world outside of ones neighborhood, environment and culture.

That reminds me. I’m supposed to have at least a session with you to get some professional pointers in singing. What made you become a voice teacher?

I was asked. I was working on Broadway doing Three Mo’ Tenors and I was called by the great Elisabeth Withers-Mendes (Tony Award Nominated actress for the original ‘The Color Purple: The Musical”) who asked me if I would be interested in teaching at Berklee. I was like, ‘why not?’ And the rest is history. Thanks to Jan Shapiro (now retired professor) who hired me and for Berklee for keeping me employed. I am having a ball, especially when I have students who WORK!!!

How do you usually go about with your voice lessons?

I always ask my students how they are doing. What’s going on in their lives. Make sure there isn’t any drama that I’m going to have to contend with during the lesson. If there is, then the lesson immediately turns into a talking lesson {laughing}. But if things go well, I always start with a review of the last lesson and then we go down the line. Breathing exercises, vocal warm-ups and then going over music. As the lesson goes on, the student can ask as many questions as he/she wants. That’s really how you learn. Asking questions.

What makes you a good teacher?

The best teachers are those who have experience as well as academic knowledge. The problem we have now with teachers is that many are just great performers or great technicians, but you don’t have many, like myself, who are great performers and great technicians. That’s what’s missing in our educational institutions. Professors who are technically proficient but know how to apply that technique to every day performance life.  

For readers who would like some development and guidance in singing, how do they go about getting help from you?

Getting help from me? Well, you can reach out to me through Facebook  or Twitter, or go to my website, and send me an email, or reach out to me through Berklee College of Music (See his profile page on the college website)

I follow you on social media, and I thought I was opinionated, but you sometimes really lay down the hammer. Lol. What would you like readers to know about you beyond what is perceived via social media?

I am all about putting money back into the hands of Black Americans/Descendants of Slaves. Unfortunately, because I have decided to take this on, my career will suffer. I believe in going against the status quo of capitalism (buying things that we don’t need). Many of our Black celebrities have become over the top wealthy by exploiting our poverty and not teaching us about Black Politics. Black Americans only own 2.6% of the richest country in the world’s wealth. A country mind you, that was built off of the backs of our ancestors who gave their lives with no compensation. This has nothing to do with our spending habits, but with the FACT that we own NOTHING. Income is not wealth. Please check out on YouTube every Monday and Wednesday from 9pm to 11pm. Very informative and full of DATA. Not just opinion, but opinion based off of DATA. Be informed and try to support Black business when and if you can.

Any last sage words to share to readers?

I am the song struggling to be heard. Now, I may be struggling, but I’m not tired. Work on trying to start from the bottom to get to the top. OWN EVERYTHING!!!

Thank you for your time, Duane.

Thank you Kenneth and you’re quite welcome.