The last singing teacher I had was a wise soul. Even though I was working on my vocal technique for use in a musical genre which offered limited prospects for men who look like me, she urged me to keep on developing my craft. Obviously, there were moments when I wobbled. Some of my associates in the music business told me I was making a decision I would live to regret. I look back on those times now and I can smile ruefully about the fact that I am still creating and expressing my talents, using the vocal artistry that I learnt from this teacher.
My singing teacher was a musical eclectic. I’ve written about her skills and interests before, but there is only so much one can express in a short article about someone who I saw almost every week for nearly fifteen years (apart from during the summer holidays, when she would take a break from teaching.) She came up in the business as a session singer – touring with rock stars and following that with vocalising on musically demanding contemporary art music recordings.
In one of my wobbly moments, she told me a story about the black singers who were emerging in the business when she was young. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of work in London for black singers to perform Motown songs – especially at the time when the original Motown sound was in vogue. Those singers were quick to take the work and were known for doing so. After a while, trends moved on and Motown was no longer in fashion. The fortunes of those singers went down with the changing times, even though they had the skills and talents that could be used in other musical genres.
At the heart of what she taught me, I believe there was an important message about integrity and being wise about nurturing one’s talents and skills. We can’t choose our genes, but we can make personal choices about the ways we express our thoughts and feelings.
In other parts of my career, I felt I was being typecast into doing black or African things. Happily I stayed on course with my artistic journey in singing, and now I am able to bring all of my skills together in ways that I didn’t foresee, all those years ago.