I was born a fraternal twin and even though I came out first, whenever anyone referred to us, my name always came second. Until now.
I was born and raised in River Rouge, Michigan. Started narrating, dancing and acting with Evelyn McCullough with presentations in school and within the community.
While in high school started outside theatre interests at Wyandotte Community Theatre in a production of "Godspell." I liked the environment and people so much, I went to Southgate Community Theatre to appear in "Company" then back to WCT to portray Snoopy in that summer's production of "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown".
High school also gave me the opportunity to win two scholarships to attend Interlochen Music Camp. One year as a high school student and my senior year, as a college scholarship recipient to attend the University of Michigan. I enjoyed it so much, I returned as a counselor for a few summers.
I had the bug. I wanted to sing, dance and act — preferably, all at once. I spent one year at U of M. While having the experience of singing with the U of M Men's Glee Club, I was still yearning to "do it all." I heard from one of the cast members of "Godspell" that a school "up the street" had such a group and I would perhaps be happier there. They were also going to have a new director so I thought this would be a perfect time to start. I left Ann Arbor and headed "up the street" towards Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University.
At Western Michigan University, many doors were opened and many, many blessings received. I auditioned for "Gold Company" and never looked back. I was initially majoring in Musical Theatre with a minor in Theatrical Dance and taking classical voice lessons. After two years of singing vocal jazz and dancing, WMU decided to cancel the major, due to low enrollment. I switched to Communications and double minored in Theatre and Theatrical Dance. I spent my non-studying hours working at the campus NPR station WMUK.FM I worked my way up from a behind-the-scenes board operator to on-air host.
While performing with GC, I expressed interest in doing choreography for the group. Beth Belanger and I became "The Potential Team" and off we went. I became student coordinator for the Phil Mattson Vocal Jazz Camp hosted at WMU and it's here where I had the opportunity to hone my solo singing skills and find my voice.
After Beth graduated (sniff), I flew solo and ended up spending many summers at Penn State with the Fred Waring Organization on the staff of the Fred Waring Summer Music Camp, featuring the music legend Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. As I matured and slowly became more confident with my talents, I spent many summers on staff at ShowChoir Camps of America, Mid-West ShowChoir Camps, Summer Music Camp held at the International Peace Arch and various other vocal jazz & show choir camps, clinics and competitions held all over the country, from Michigan to Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada. Having the opportunity to meet Phil Mattson, Bonnie Herman, Don Shelton, Gene Puerling, Kirby & Markita Shaw, Mac Huff, Roger Emerson and other musical greats. All the while getting an undergrad degree and touring with Gold Company. We went everywhere. Across Michigan, California and other states and even Canada, spreading the gospel of vocal jazz with wild abandon. Performing with such notable celebrities as Pat Paulsen, The Manhattan Transfer, and Bobby McFerrin. Recording new releases for Shawnee Press, Columbia Studio P/R and Gary Fry in Chicago. Performing at various IAJE and ACDA conferences across the U.S.
I met incredibly talented people, made incredible life long friends and another mentor by the name of Gene Aitken.
Gene, at the time, was director of Jazz Studies at the University of Northern Colorado. It's here that I was put in another environment of teacher and student, honing choreography skills, finding ways to help singers connect with their bodies while watching and listening to stellar vocal & instrumental jazz performances. It's also here I had the opportunity to meet two influential people; Sharon Broadley and another legend, Mark Murphy.
Sharon's honest telling of the highs and lows of being in a professional group (The Ritz) were eye opening. That and her personality and talent would keep a room lit for many DAYS! She's also crazy as a loon.
Mark Murphy taught me the beauty of patience and the art of putting together a medley of songs. Two songs with the same title but different sentiment. Experiencing vocal styling, microphone techniques, repertoire, and song delivery from a master. Thank you to both Mark and Sharon. I hope you hear your influences in the CD.
Well, after six years at WMU and GC, I FINALLY graduated and continued singing and choreographing after moving to Chicago, IL. I concentrated on honing teaching skills and choreography with three of the wildest and unpredictable men on the planet; James "Bishop" Parks, Stirling Culp, and Alan Bogovich. Added Show Choir & gospel experience with Stirling & Alan, plus show structure and voice lessons with Jim. One of my clinics took me to Syracuse University for a Vocal Jazz/Show Clinic hosted by Diana Spradling and her vocal jazz ensemble, "Windjammer". While in Chicago, I spent many hours on movie and television series' sets as an extra. If you look real close, you'll see me in reruns of various episodes of the ABC-TV cop show, "Lady Blue". A few scenes in the Gregory Hines/Billy Crystal vehicle "Running Scared", one of many in the crowd during "Ferris Bueler's Day Off", and the Tom Hanks/Jackie Gleason movie "Nothing in Common" — during the film's opening credits, I'm one of the people Tom waves at in the parking lot. I also got a chance during a break, to chat with Jackie Gleason. He was surprised to learn that I was working with and for his long-time friend, Fred Waring. Too Cool!
By this time, I felt, as a singer/dancer, I wanted to know more about the techniques of singing to become both a better singer and better choreographer. I decided to attend Syracuse University as a graduate student. While in Syracuse, NY the blessings continued. I sang and taught vocal jazz, studied voice with G. Burton Harbison, was the "Voice of the Orange" during football season, half-time shows at Carrier Dome. Later, I spent many seasons as the announcer for the NY Marching Band Association competitions, also held at the Carrier Dome. Upon graduation, I stayed in the Syracuse area, specifically in Baldwinsville, NY where I became a Junior High Choral Director at Theodore Durgee Jr. High School and singing jazz brunches at Scarlet's Restaurant. Also singing with the award-winning, semi-professional vocal jazz ensemble "Swing Central". Life was good.
My students never knew that their teacher was a well-regarded vocal jazz/show choir clinician/adjudicator. Not that it mattered. We had fun.
The Universe has many ways of telling you it's time to move on, and after 6 years, it was time to move on. I left NY for LA. More friends, more adventures. I thought it was time for me to explore the idea of performing professionally; actually the universe had other ideas. After helping debut Matt Groening's comic company, Bongo. I got a job working at Border's Books & Music and singing showtunes with an entertainment ensemble headed by Kayre Morrison, whom I sang with in WCT's production of "Godspell." The computer geek in me took full reign as a fellow co-worker and I ran the New Media section of the bookstore. The CD-Rom was the fad of the moment while Kevin and I took the store to critical acclaim with our set up of the section. It didn't take long for a CD-ROM company to take notice and offer me a job. I left Borders for Japanese company, Synergy Interactive and months after becoming the "Audience Relations" guru; we re-located from Los Angeles to San Francisco — at the time, the heart of the CD-ROM beast. Not bad for a guy who started out in River Rouge, Michigan.
In San Francisco, it was "the becoming." I worked for Synergy Interactive and in a terrible turn of events, lost my roommate Robert Nathan Hess, Jr. to complications from AIDS. Upon healing from the loss of a dear and wonderful friend, I then became an editor for MacUser Magazine. While Rob and I were roommates, we made a promise to ourselves that we would stop being workaholics and try to do things that made us happy. He was going to go out more and I promised that I would get back to singing. Ironically, the week before Rob passed away, I auditioned to become a member of the world-famous, San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and the week Rob passed away, I found out I passed the audition.
Two days after Rob’s memorial was my first rehearsal and I stayed with SFGMC for many years, long enough to sing on 5 best-selling CD's (The ground-breaking work "NakedMan", as well as "Q", "Misbehavin'" with the late Nell Carter, "ExtrABBAganza" and "Exile"). Also had time to direct a gay, all male, vocal jazz ensemble, "Swing Set". The classical side wanted more challenging literature, so I left SFGMC for The Choral Project. Meanwhile, I started developing an idea I'd had in the back of my mind for almost 2 years. The Universe gave me yet another hint of things to come with my celebrating turning 40 by auditioning for Cirque Du Soleil. I made it and now have an "active file" with the company.
With that, it was now time to go solo and completely develop 'Intimacy' as a cabaret act. I motivated myself by entering (and winning) the best male contemporary singer in a citywide cabaret contest. A working version of the show was performed to a standing room only crowd. January 13, 2002, Intimacy debuted at The Plush Room. After the success of the show (and an invitation to return to the Plush Room, I decided to record the songs and produce my very first CD.
In 2000, I a friend asked if I would be interested in helping someone premiere a brand new work she wrote for Easter. It was called "If I be Lifted Up" and it was written by someone who’s work I’ve been familiar with for quite some time and now, I was about to meet her. I met Désirée Goyette and her husband Ed Bogas and never looked back. My love for all things animated told me who they were before I met them. If you’re familiar with this little round headed kid named Charlie Brown, then you’ve already heard the music of Désirée & Ed. She’s also the genius behind Snoopy’s big hit, “Flashbeagle” as well as a few songs for the lasagna loving fat cat, “Garfield”. Check out her site, Lightchild Publishing. Also via Désirée, I was introduced to the wonderful world of voiceover work at Creativity. A truly wonderful group of people to work for and I hope our professional relationship grows more and more.
So, during the day, I was an Executive Administrative Assistant for two great bosses at PRN and after work, I'm either singing somewhere or doing voiceover work. Ok, enough about me — I'm bored. I most certainly hope you enjoy 'Intimacy'. As you have read, I've been blessed with some truly wonderful opportunities/life experiences. It's my hope the blessings will continue and you have been equally as blessed.
Wow! It’s been a very long time. Not intentional and thank you to everyone who purchased "Intimacy". The CD was an enormous hit and continues to sell well on both CD Baby and Amazon thanks to you and your word of mouth and e-mails of enthusiastic support!
John Bucchino, the wonderful composer, sent a wonderful sentiment regarding the CD and my recording of three of his songs featured on "Intimacy" which I’ll share with you here.
You’re probably wondering, what have I been doing since. Long and short, a little bit of everything. Here’s a quick snippet of what I’ve been up to since the release, as I have a LOT of catching up to do. The most bittersweet however, is the ending of my relationship with Brian (he’s one of the people I dedicated the CD to). Don’t worry...I still believe in intimacy and love.
After the release, I decided I wanted to return to singing in a group. I was over singing about "all things gay" and wanted to return to classical music and the discipline behind it. I joined the brothers of Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, directed by Joseph Jennings — who also happens to be the director of the internationally renown "Orchestra of Voices" known as Chanticleer. I’ve been singing with the guys since 2004 and it’s been a wonderful journey. A highlight was returning to GALA with my new choral family and performing a musical set that was received with an enormous standing ovation. I was also featured in a duet with Brian Sawyer in a performance of "Litany of Thunder" composed by Vytautas Miškinis.
- Golden Gate Men’s Chorus, Joseph Jennings, Director
Member / featured soloist / member of select ensemble "Counterpoint"
Also during that time, I was called in for more than a few studio sessions and had the pleasure and honor to sing with some incredibly talented singers, all under the direction of my "sis" Desiree Goyette. Here are a few of the projects where you may have heard us:
- Gran Turismo 4 Soundtrack (Listen to "Moon Over the Castle")
- Ghost Rider Movie Trailer (produced by Pfeifer Broz.)
- Casino Royale Movie Trailer (produced by Pfeifer Broz.)
- Pfeifer Broz. Sample Library
What can I say about the Pfeifer Brothers that hasn’t already been said? They’re simply amazing and every project I have the opportunity to work on with them is incredible. Talented guys with beautiful souls and killer ears for a melodic hook and tricky rhythms. Love them!
2009 was a banner year. So many things happened to take me into my 50th birthday (yeah...whatever!). Kicking off the year, Désirée invited me to audition to sing on a brand new, historic project. After 30 years of not updating their hymnal, the Christian Science organization was going to update their hymnal with new recordings. I made the cut and the four singers began the task of recording all new songs for a brand new hymnal supplement. Another hidden bonus; One of the composers working on the hymnal project was Dr. Robert Rockabrand. I’ve not heard that name since High School and my first time attending Interlochen Music Camp’s All-State Division where he was our guest conductor for the week. It was such a blessing to hear his name, let alone have the opportunity to sing one of his arrangements. It was a truly blessed reunion and I hope I did his arrangement justice.
Here are a few samples.
- Featured Vocalist Christian Science New Hymnal Supplemental
2-Disc CD recording "Let’s Sing"
My other spiritual family is in Palo Alto — Unity Palo Alto Community Church to be specific. Rev. Karen "Special K" Bradley invited me to do a concert there as a fundraiser for the church to help kick off that year’s concert series. I, along with resident accompanist/genius Russell Mandeln, jumped at the chance. I didn’t want to do "just another show" so I set out to re-tell the story of "The Wizard of Oz" using music from ALL the existing Oz projects. After pouring thru the movie and Broadway versions of "The Wiz", "Wizard of Oz", and "Wicked", I created a show that not only re-told the story but also featured truly uplifting stuff to think about. It was great finding new songs to feature that had been previously ignored and/or forgotten. The show was welcomed with open arms and I can’t wait to do the show again.
- Wrote and premiered: "Along The Yellow Brick Road" Cabaret Show
Unity Palo Alto Community Church (solo show)
Shortly after that, Des and I had an idea — rather she made a comment that I jumped on and an idea/project was created. If memory serves, she’d done a show at Unity in Marin and dressed up as Judy Garland. While chatting with her, she asked, "I wonder if Judy Garland ever did anything with Nat 'King' Cole?" Being the research geek that I am, I hit the internet and also posed the question to a friend who is also the curator of "The Judy Room". Turns out, Nat was scheduled to be on Judy’s ill fated television series and on the day of taping, the show was shut down and re-tooled because of friction between the director and CBS Studios. The incident was also re-told in the now out-of-print biography of the show but within the book, was the actual show that was to have been recorded. Desiree and I, along with Ed Bogas, recreated the show &mdash "A Nat and Judy Valantine" had it’s world premiere at the fabulous Rrazz Room in the Nikko Hotel to a sold out crowd.
- "A Nat and Judy Valentine", Starring LaMont Ridgell and Désirée Goyette
Cabaret Show premiere: The Rrazz Room in the Nikko Hotel, San Francisco
As if that wasn’t enough, I joined facebook. Long story short, my friend Dale (whom I sang with in SFGMC) was a friend with Mary (another Michigan friend) they had in common this guy named Jeff. I befriended Jeff as a joke. He, in turn, happened to be the artistic director of Alameda Civic Light Opera. That summer, they’d had auditions for "Ragtime" the musical and hadn’t found someone to portray "Coalhouse Walker, Jr.". He asked me if I would be interested in auditioning. After 3 weeks of playing tag with our schedules, we were finally able to be in the same room, at the same time, together with the music director Cary.
I freaked because I’d not been on stage acting since WMU — and would I be able to memorize all those lines and ALL those songs? I consulted with Désirée as my voice coach to help with techniques of keeping my voice intact for such a vocally demanding role. The cast, crew, and orchestra were amazing — but you don’t have to take my word for it. You can read the reviews for yourself.
After "Ragtime", I hung around ACLO and new friends with Contra Costa Civic Theatre (CCCT) and performed:
- "Broadway’s Greatest Moments" — Alameda Civic Light Opera
- "Sounds of the Season" — Alameda Civic Light Opera and repeated at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre
I have to mention Laurie, Sean, Dean, and Derrick. Sounds of the Season was a blessing because it was the holidays, I was still looking for a new job and also battling a bit of depression because I was not in a good place financially, spiritually, or emotionally. Having the ability to be around these truly talented gentlemen helped carry me through a very trying time.
- Alameda Theatre New Year’s Eve Bash with "The Rat Pack"
Sammy Davis, Jr.
The Lord works in mysterious ways. Someone looking for "a black man who can sing like Sammy Davis, Jr." sent ACLO and Jeff an e-mail and of course, the email was eventually forwarded to me. After a bit of research and meeting the guys — Chuck and Patrick — another dream of mine became very, very real. The beautiful Alameda Theatre was putting together a benefit (one of the beneficiaries happened to be ACLO) so I didn’t hesitate to volunteer. I ended up doing a full New Year’s Eve show featuring "The Rat Pack" and singing some of Sammy Davis, Jr’s signature tunes backed by a 17-piece orchestra. Seriously, someone pinch me!
The night was a HUGE success and having met Chuck, Patrick, Charles, and their spouses — my extended family became, well...extended!
Here’s a pic and clip of me as one of my idols — and yes, the wig did get better:
- Man of La Mancha: "Don Miguel de Cervantes/Alonzo Quixana/Don Quixote"
As stated above, I was in the midst of doing "Broadway’s Greatest Moments" with ACLO. Well, one of the performers — the amazingly talented Paula Wujek — whom I grew to love dearly because our souls mesh so well — stood in front of our dressing room and said "I’m choreographing 'Man of La Mancha' at Altarena Playhouse and I expect to see you at auditions!" I, of course, laughed and replied, "I’ve enjoyed working with you so much, I’ll see you there!" I went to support Paula and auditioned — of course, I didn’t have much memorized because I’d just come out of the Broadway review and heading into "Sounds of the Season", my head was “full”. I was called back for the role of Don Miguel de Cervantes/Alonzo Quixana/Don Quixote and ended up winning the role. Another mixed blessing — Because I was still unemployed and, having turned 50, found myself in truly dark times and the only light had been friends, family, and this show.
Each and every time I sang "The Impossible Dream" I couldn’t help but think of my Fred Waring Family and the fact that I’m singing this iconic song within the context of the actual show.
Here are the reviews and more than a few pics:
At some point, the Nat 'King' Cole tribute CD will be released as well as a CD of inspirational songs that have been culling around in my head. Somewhere in the middle of all this madness, I met two guys who are insanely talented and asked if I would be interested in lending my voice to their brand new musical. I said “yes” to Brendan Simon and Robert Michael Moreno and their beautiful creation called “Torch”. Extended family...extended (again) as I’d just completed “Ragtime” with Nephi Speer. The initial staged reading of “Torch” led to yet another reading, which was partially choreographed as well. “Torch” was re-lit and it was an honor to breathe life into such a stirring piece of theatre!
After "Man of La Mancha" closed, I was asked if I’d be willing to substitute for a performer during Memorial Day Weekend in a production of "You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown" with the Willows Theater Company. So...I did. Go ahead, learn a character’s lines, choreography, and staging in a week or so and GO! I Had a LOT of fun.
One of the memorable quotes during an outside performance (while Lucy is singing):
Lucy: "Do you see those things, those tiny black things? Those are bugs...
Me as Schroeder, ad libbing: "Those are kids!"
Good times...good times.
After that, I was asked by friends if I’d be interested in doing a few performances that would benefit the American Cancer Society. Of course. So, A Dramatic Cure presented "HONK!" and I was The Bullfrog. Here are pics and a performance at the Relay for Life after the show closed.
To close 2010, I donned the tux again, re-styled the wig, and performed as Sammy Davis, Jr. once again with the Rat Pack Summit. More good times swingin’ with Sammy, Frank, Dean, and Joey.
Dark Times and Waiting for the Light to Shine
2011 began the same as 2010 — me jobless and interviewing while trying to keep things together. I was also going into another birthday with another role. That of "Jim" in Contra Costa Civic Theatre’s production of "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". I almost turned the role down because, quite frankly, I was hesitant to play an "escaped slave" because I didn’t know where the director was going to go with the character and I didn’t want him to be a stereotype. After a few wonderful meetings, we were on our way. While we’d worked before in other shows, we’d never really worked together on something this intense. So it was more or less an issue of trust. Once that was resolved, I’ll have to say, in short, the show was a complete gift, a total blessing, and one of the most memorable roles thus far. Much of the credit goes directly to the cast, in particular one Pam Dani Williams — my other “sister”. The show opened and while we didn’t receive one single printed review, we went on to break CCCT records by selling out every single night for 4 weeks (and we ran for 6). Audience members did however, blow up Goldstar with rave reviews. It was an honor and pleasure to perform for such wonderfully gracious and generous audience members. The other huge blessing? Right before we opened, I interviewed at Constellation Wines, U.S. and now, I’m the Executive Assistant to the SVP of Marketing. The irony? I don’t drink.
Don’t ask me what I was thinking, but during Big River, I also went back to the Willows Theater Company because I heard they were going to do "Once On This Island" AND "Sweeney Todd" — my heart raced, so I went to the general auditions with the hopes of landing a role in both shows, since I was already a familiar face having subbed the summer before. Due to schedule changes, "Sweeney Todd" couldn’t be secured, but I ended up getting the role of "Papa Ge" the Sly Demon of Death in "Once On This Island". I was excited because this was my very first "evil" role. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to play him as a "stereotype" but how do you "play evil"? Especially after playing a truly gentle, heart-on-his-sleeve, vulnerable runaway slave like "Jim"? Well, I didn’t have too long to dwell on it as I had TWO WEEKS between the close of Big River and the opening of Island!
How did I let this happen?
After “Once on This Island” closed, I promised myself to take a break to rest the vocal chords and get centered once again. My dear friends at the Willows Theatre Company found themselves in another bind. Their hit production of “Chicago” was being extended, due to audience demand. The actor playing Billy Flynn however, had a conflict and they needed someone to step in for a weekend (the weekend AFTER Memorial Day). Yep. I said “yes” — learned the role in about a week and a half and had way too much fun with the cast and crew. Waaaaaaaay back in the day, I did the show at Western Michigan University and still had my blue pin-striped suit. Guess what? It still fit and I actually got to wear it again, a kabillion years later.
What’s up next? My first play in San Francisco. I will be “Sam” in a production of Athold Fugard’s “Master Harold...and the boys”. I’m looking forward to the challenge of the play and the opportunity of working with a new director and making new friends. Check out Off Broadway West website and I’ll see you at the Phoenix Theatre sometime in mid-October 2011!
HUGE NEWS! The Willows Theatre Company nominated me as “Best Actor in a Musical” in the production of “Once On This Island” for a Shellie Award. The 33rd Annual Shellie Awards will be presented January 14, 2012, so wish me luck.