Having been represented by top professional management in my singing career, I have learned what it takes to succeed in the music business. Assuming many of the public relations and marketing aspects of my own work as an opera and concert singer, I continue to help other leading classical — and pop — singers to develop and sustain their careers.
My work as a stage performer — in theater, dance, concert, and opera — has enriched my comprehension of an artist’s professional needs, and I have become ever more comfortable with representing our art and artistry to the ticket-buying public.
In many ways I have a wonderful life. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up under the watchful eyes of my mother and my grandparents, who helped to nurture my dreams for a career in show business. Singing and dancing, my grandmother and grandfather had achieved success on the vaudeville stage before retiring to raise a family in stable surroundings. In my first conscious memories of them, they would have been about the same age — early 50s — that I am today. I understand now that they were in the prime years of their lives, and that I was the beneficiary of their wise guidance. They taught me to look below the surface of things and ideas, to understand the significance of everything I undertook.
My grandparents would be proud to know that as a tenor I continue to sing leading roles in the greatest concert halls and opera houses all over the world.
As a classically trained singer I have recorded for KOCH International, New World Records, Ircam and Radio Suisse Romande. EMI France added me to their stable of singers specializing in French repertoire, after their marketing director brought my singing to the attention of the company executives. Their seeing my performance in Cecilia on France 2, a world premiere mounted in Monte Carlo, initiated that EMI honor.
I have appeared in televised concerts and operas many times, most notably with Opéra Monte Carlo, Festival d’Antibes, the Bermuda Festival, and with Classic Open Air in Berlin.the tenor
In addition, I co-created “Open Opera”, the very first classical casting show, for ARTE (Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. PBS or A&E channels). We casted and produced Bizet’s Carmen, which aired in summer 2012 for a pan-European audience of more than ten million viewers.Open Opera
I continue to give master classes at American and European universities and am a sought-after consultant with the major record labels Sony, Columbia, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, and EMI, as well as a few indie labels and major producers, worldwide. In addition, I have been a professional ballet and modern dancer, choreographer, professional model, actor, publicist, and a GEMA songwriter. And I have given interviews to many, many national and International publications regarding my pupils and work, as well as to television music shows such as VH1, MTV, ARTE and the BBC.
By the time I was three years old, my maternal grandparents had chosen music and dance as my destined paths, and there was no escaping it or them. Truth be told, I did love singing and performing. Determined that I should follow in their footsteps on the stage, Evelyn and Charles Sims spared no effort to insure my success and they prodded my mother and my teachers to assist in their campaign.
My life-long addiction to music and to singing deepened alongside an early fascination with human behavior in all forms. As a child and young man I dreamed of becoming a psychiatrist. On my own I read widely, and while attending Omaha’s demanding Technical High School I discovered classes in psychology. I insisted that I would become a psychiatrist. My grandmother would say, “OK, Baby,” and then she would remind me to be on time for my piano lessons.
Like most black singers, my roots can be traced back to the church; for me it was Clair Memorial United Methodist in Omaha. There I first heard the term “God-given gift.” What is that exactly?
In laymen’s terms “God-given gift” refers to talent. It suggests that an artist’s talent is not only natural, but that has been touched by the hand of God. Over the years a number of singers have come to me with a reputation for “God-given gifts.”
In my terms, “God-given” does not mean that the singer is a genius, and it certainly does not mean that their God-given talent will remain intact without the assistance of a capable teacher. In most cases they do not. Study with a fine teacher enhances their native abilities and helps to turn a gifted voice into a healthy and reliable instrument. No singer reaches the pinnacle without wise guidance. The teacher's objective should always include the vocal health and well-being of the student. The level of artistry that I work to cultivate with my students — whether in opera or in pop music — encompasses health on all levels: physical, mental, and emotional. With singing, there can be no separation of those elements.
Cherishing the value of my own outstanding mentors, I have been — and am — passionate about my role and responsibilities as a teacher of music and singing. It is an important responsibility, which I never take lightly. If you were to speak to some of my students, you would probably hear stories of grueling work, frustration, and sometimes even tears. But, I believe that they would all unequivocally agree that the end result is more gratifying than they could have imagined. I would be the first to admit that I am not an easy teacher. This is because I leave no fleas on my students'singing and performance. I demand the very best from them. Ultimately, I want my singing students and my protégés to be better than I am, and I hold nothing back.
In an interview for the German newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, I was quoted as saying: “Singing was my talent, but teaching is my gift. Without teaching, my life would not be complete.” It is true. Music, Singing and the Teaching of singing became my drugs of choice. Greatness, for every artist, frequently boils down to a handful of factors, the one or two details that make all the difference.
Lots of people have talent. What separates them from greatness? KNOWLEDGE!! That is the answer I give my students.
Through my teaching I have helped to restore voices recovering from vocal nodules (polyps or calluses on the vocal folds), voices that shake (usually as a result of insufficient support or not having enough body weight), voices with wobbles the size of the Grand Canyon (heard in many — but not only — Gospel singers, and the one problem that is not repairable if the voice has lost elasticity), slow vibratos (disconnection from the diaphragm), tremolos (a bleating sound caused by too much breath pressure), voices suffering from minor head injury or laryngeal nerve damage, and the unsteady voices of female singers with low estrogen levels (their voice may drop a third and break at will). I have even successfully taught the deaf to sing, a most interesting process.
I am always disheartened when I hear a voice in disrepair. By the time a pupil comes to me for vocal coaching any number of issues may have surfaced. Frequently the pupil wants a quick fix for the problems they see as “minor.” They often have extreme vocal difficulties or they may be on the way to having them, which will only increase, if left unattended. Their unease in singing or their limited range may be a result of fear.
On the other hand, having success in dealing with “problem voices,” I also have had many students who come to me with healthy but immature voices. To the most frequently asked question, “How do I transfer the ideas I have in my head to my singing?” I reply, “Think it, put it on your face, and then sing it.”
That sounds like a simple, even simplistic, notion, but believe me it is not. It actually describes a complex process, which takes years to master. My job is to help the singer — healthy or troubled — to develop a solid technical approach so that they can achieve consistency and what I call „at will” singing. When they have mastered this complex process, their singing and performing will look and sound effortless, like Beyoncé’s.
In all cases I have to go deep into the psyche of the singer. Who are they? What makes them tick? What are the idiosyncrasies they employ in singing? Do they exhibit poor body alignment, or tics that bring about the opposite of what they desire? What are their fears, and where do they originate? Ultimately, I have to assess if the singers can indeed get out of their own way so that their breath may flow uninterrupted. I assess my students’ musical intellect, as well as their resolve and have determined that a great singer must possess eight specific characteristics: Desire, Voice, Talent, Vision, Imagination, Technique, Tenacity, and Discipline, in that order.
A God-given Desire, Voice, Talent, Vision, Imagination, and Tenacity all came before me in one memorable package the day eight-year-old Beyoncé Giselle Knowles first sang for me. It was my great pleasure, over the subsequent eleven years, to teach her the discipline and vocal technique necessary to support the God-given characteristics of her talent and to train her — and the other girls whom I assembled in forming Destiny’s Child — for the stupendous successes that they experienced, even before they had left their teens.
I have many pupils who have reached success and were great students of singing, but Beyoncé and the girls of Destiny’s Child were my beginning. It is they who give the word “special” true meaning. They shared their hopes, their dreams, and their nightmares with me, to the point that they became my own dreams and nightmares. More often than not, I thought of them before thinking of myself.
The Knowles parents — in particular the mother, Celestine — invited me into the family's life and lives, a position that served us all well as long as we all respected the original boundaries: I was to be the singing teacher, coach, and mentor to Beyoncé and all the girls. As the boundaries eroded, I began to fight within myself over my role in the Knowles family's life.
I have written into the pages of Beyoncé: Raising Genius all the sacrifices, rewards, and disappointments of being a mentor. The oftentimes sad tales are woven in vivid color through the narrative,from my own life struggles, where I come to terms with my own childhood, and my own fumbling attempts at self-worth. Oftentimes I am the voice of reason — the most responsible adult in the room — and sometimes I am ashamed beyond measure. Because I spent more than a decade (fourteen years altogether) guiding the musical and performing talents of Beyoncé Knowles and the other girls of Destiny’s Child, I knew them well. They can’t be omitted from my story. My work with them as their first vocal and „everything coach,“ as well as my role as their devoted counselor, protector, mentor, and friend set them up to become the greatest girl group in U. S. music history, and arguably, the world.
It took Beyoncé four private lessons a week and six group lessons a week, every week, for eleven years, to move from a gifted talent to genius. She awakened every morning asking eagerly, “What I am going to learn today?” Our shared history and joy, mine in teaching and hers in learning, can never be erased. I am proud of Beyoncé's amazing accomplishments. All the girls — now young women — are far more complex characters than their fans and others know.
In my nearly thirty years of teaching, I have never had a more dedicated and focused protégé than Beyoncé. I gave her the best of what I had to give as a teacher, mentor, and friend. It is easy giving to someone so eager. While all of my students worked hard and achieved success, Beyoncé remains the stand-out star. It is because, while they all possessed talent, they do not all possess drive. Beyoncé did.
In 1998, Beyoncé fired her father. To save himself, Mathew re-entered rehab, and this time it came out that he was indeed a sex addict. Although Beyoncé was horrified with this new understanding of his behaviors, she felt sorry for him. (This wouldn’t be the last time her father’s deviant behavior would shock her.) Celestine, determined to force her daughter’s hand, repeated her mantra about family. “We remain loyal in this family,” she said. Naturally, Beyoncé buckled under the pressure of her mother’s heavy handling. Her sister, Solange did not.
A few months later, during her acceptance speech at the Lady of Soul, Soul Train Music Awards — Destiny’s Child’s very first music award — Beyoncé thanked me during their third win of the evening! (That acceptance speech can be seen on YouTube. The title of the video is “Destiny's Child Sweep the 1998 Lady of Soul Awards.”) After thanking me first, she thanked her choreographer Frank Gatson Jr., then her mother, and lastly her father. What happened next marked the beginning of the end for me. Mathew Knowles attacked his daughter backstage. Beyoncé, he demanded, was never to say my name again. And she didn't. Looking to her mother for moral support, Beyoncé heard: “Loyalty at all cost,” and Beyoncé listened. She cried, but she listened. I was left to ponder what the meaning of it all had been. Why did the Knowles see my kindness as weakness?
By the time Destiny’s Child’s junior album (which I had helped them to prepare) was released in July 1999 I was persona non grata. That 1999 album catapulted my girls to household status. Furthermore, it became prophetic, in every sense.
By December, my perfect vision began to unravel and by February 2000, LeToya Nicole Luckett and LaTavia Marie Roberson would be unjustly fired and their reputations slandered. The public would swallow the Knowleses carefully crafted stories of their own great pride and struggle, of self-sacrifice (a universal theme made by parents of star performers, no matter the idiom) and the many tales about the ousted girls' ungrateful behavior. The public's acceptance of these lies as truths had unfortunate consequences, particularly for LeToya and LaTavia.
Grandmother had taught me, throughout my Christian upbringing, to turn the other cheek. I heard and believed, “Don’t do things for credit, do them from the heart.” But I want what every human being wants and what every artist deeply desires: not to be forgotten. I want the recognition of my work and I want the applause that I have earned. I am no less a Christian for that. I know this now.
Paul Burrell, the author of A Royal Duty, which chronicles his life and experiences with Princess Diana, once said in the press, “I never thought I would have to write this book — but then I never believed I would have to redress balance.” This is my sentiment exactly, and it expresses only one of the reasons I am writing this book. The other reasons have to do with deceit and greed. Beyoncé and all the other girls were like the daughters I never had, and I loved them dearly. They were honest and decent children dealing with serious family issues that no child should have to experience.
It is, however, important to know when to let go. The special student-teacher bond necessary to the formation of a great artist is a powerful one; therefore, separation anxiety can take a toll on both artist and teacher. But if the artist is going to have success, the teacher must release the pupil. After all, it is their life and career.
I took on Beyoncé and the other girls, knowing that one day they would have to go out and conquer on their own. It was necessary to equip them and not cripple them. I breathed with them, and I cried with them. And I rejoiced with them as they set their emotions free and conquered their fears. I helped them to identify their feelings through micro- expression techniques and I guided them to understanding how to display human emotions in singing. Above all, I was determined to build 360-degree artists.
Given my line of work, and my own professional experiences, I should know more than anyone that betrayal often comes with the territory. Nevertheless, I believed that I would be in my girls’ lives forever. I was family. Celestine Knowles had often referred to me as her little brother, all over town. This “kinship,” no matter how strong, was trumped by the bond between Celestine and her daughter. It was perhaps inevitable that Beyoncé would learn from her parent’s the art and craft of lying, of intrigue, and of deception. Mystery has become Beyoncé’s best friend.
In her 2013 documentary “Life is but a dream,” Beyoncé begins the film talking about independence. “I’m feeling very empty because of my relationship with my dad. I’m so fragile. At this point — and I feel like — my — soul has been tarnished. Life is so unpredictable but I felt like I had to move on and not work with my dad. And I don’t care if I don’t sell one record. It’s bigger than the record. It’s bigger than my career.”
Her words pierced my resolve and even though Beyoncé doesn’t let her fans in on what “It” is, I know first-hand what she meant. Her powerful statements in that documentary mirror my sentiment exactly — all of them but one. When Beyoncé said “All the crazy things my father did were necessary,” I lost it. I couldn’t believe my ears. I saw his obsession eat away at not only her but everyone around her. It felt as though she believed that because she was successful that it was all worth it. Abuse is never “worth it.” Her parents' ruthless behavior can’t be interpreted as consistency in upbringing.
As I see them, the facts are clear: Beyoncé never set out to hurt anyone. Any ugly deed attributed to her in other books was neither initiated nor delivered by her. Still, the responsibility lies with her. Reading J. Randy Taraborrelli’s book, I watched Celestine throw Beyoncé under the bus more than once. In several shameless acts of self-preservation, Beyoncé’s own mother attributes the harsh decisions that she herself made to her famous daughter’s business savvy. Reading these passages, I was horrified and outraged. Again, Celestine seems to be setting her plan to control every outcome in motion, in Beyoncé’s name. When will it end, I thought?
There have been numerous attempts to pen the story of what some have called the meteoric rise and success of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles. They have all missed the mark. They weren’t there. They don’t know her. Beyoncé: Raising Genius is not forced to follow the story that the family has orchestrated. The only definitive book that will ever be written about Beyoncé’s rise, mine will answer the questions that have gone unanswered, as well as those the reader didn’t even realize might need to be asked. None of the others know which rocks to look under for the buried treasure that is Beyoncé’s real story.
Dispelling the many widely believed myths surrounding Beyoncé’s rise, I use captivating stories that no one else can or will, to reveal Beyoncé’s parents’ illusions of grandeur and self-serving delusions of superiority. In balanced and sensitive language — with humor and with compassion — I write about a gifted teacher and his prodigy. A beautiful young, talented girl, Beyoncé was guided to superstardom at an incredible cost to herself and everyone around her. My disappointment is monumental.
Release date: January 2018
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Sir Francis Bacon reminds us that “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.”