“I am an opera singer and give concerts around the world, but I didn’t start out like that. I hid in my room and sang to myself and my sister listened outside the door. My first solo was in church when I was 14 and I was so nervous. I was quiet and shy at LeFlore High School and put all of my energy into music. I was mildly talented and needed development, but deep down I wanted to be phenomenal.
My dream was to become an opera singer even before I understood what it was. I listened to my dad’s records of classical music like Schubert, but also Aretha Franklin, and became a mixture of all of it. I learned to harmonize singing in the kitchen with my mom, but she is not a singer. When it was time to audition for college scholarships, she tried to teach me how to round my tones. It took three years, $25,000, and a little old lady in Italy to undo everything my mama taught me in an hour.
My freshman year of college, the vocal instructor gave me a CD of Jessye Norman, a black opera singer from Augusta, Georgia. My voice was nowhere near that, but I understood what we had in common. I went to Italy when I was 19 for opera training and to learn the language. That trip changed my life and transformed my thinking. I learned to accept myself and the color of my skin. It also made me aware of what I am capable of. My coach was intrigued by my voice because it is different for an opera singer. It is heavy and dark with light notes. I am a soprano and sing an F above the staff. Today I am classically trained but also love to sing jazz and gospel. I am from the deep South and grew up in a black church. I infuse all of those styles and because that is who I am.
Italy is my second home and I go back several times a year to perform or teach “Singing with Soul” classes. When we do concerts, we rock it out. I bring my culture, experiences and music from Mobile and they perform our music. Audiences love it and appreciate what we sometimes take for granted over here. I keep resupplying them with Mobile. That is powerful to me.
I don’t take these opportunities for granted. They aren’t just for me, they are for every person who has come behind me. I started a non-profit in 2000, called Italian Opera Study Abroad Inc., to share some of the transformative experiences that I had. I take my vocal students to Italy and pull them on stage with me. I also visit schools and teach students to be confident in themselves. If you are given a gift, you are fully equipped for the calling. Don’t let fear hold you back.
I live for singing. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was so sick I couldn’t sing to my baby and was miserable and empty without it. Singing gives me life and that is when I feel closer to God. The spiritual side flows out and I can release everything in me. Every time I open my mouth to sing is a praise. I am grateful for the gift and the ability to bring joy to others.
I also use the dresses I wear in concerts and performances to give joy to others. Presentation is everything and opera singers usually don’t wear the same dress twice, but sometimes I try. People notice every detail from your hair to your toes. I give a lot of dresses away to high school girls going to proms. They are beautiful gowns of all types and sizes and I like them having another life outside of my closets.
Today, most of my performances are concerts. I try to take the audience on a journey to a place they have never been and I want them to leave better then they came. If I don’t achieve that, I have failed. My dream is to perform in Mobile, but it is hard because opera is not part of the culture here. I may perform around the world, but this will always be home. I got married a few months ago and we opened a co-working space called The Grind. It is fun being newlyweds and I am always glad to get back to my man.
I have learned that whatever you have a passion for, put everything into it. Getting better never stops and I am only as good as my last performance. When I was the shy girl just singing to herself, I never dreamed I would sing for thousands of people in Europe or South America and feel more comfortable on stage than anywhere else. My motto became ‘be fearless. Step on the stage and own it’.”