The only thing I haven’t done is feature film. But I don’t even want to do anything like that until it means something. I’m a single digit handicap There’s only three people in the world who sing better than me. Many sing differently,
By FELICIA C. HANEY
Next week, Cleveland is in for a real treat when The Colors of Christmas comes to town at Severance Hall. As a prequel, CP2 spoke with the legendary Peabo Bryson, one of the four headliners, for an exclusive heads up on the holiday’s hottest concert.
Having had such longevity and an illustrious career, what motivates you to continue performing?
Some things actually do get better with time. I’ve never been a believer in resting on your laurels. There’s always new ground to conquer. That’s the difference between a long career and a short career… The desire to get better.
What do you attribute to being the key to success and longevity in this ever-changing industry?
Through grace. I don’t compete with people or other artists or anyone else. I only compete with myself. My only aim in life is to be a better me today than I was yesterday. Don’t allow people to determine who you are. No one told Picasso how to paint or what to sculpt. Several people did try to tell Van Gogh how to do it and we saw the result of that! It’s just about believing in God and self. All energies are borrowed. I love my spirituality. That’s one of the reason’s I’m a big Tim Tebow fan. We live by grace every single day.
Do you think the industry is changing for the better or worse?
I think behind every difficult progression in business and in particular the music business is really like all problems that we have in society today. If there is a real threat to global finances then someone’s being really greedy. It all boils down to greed. Someone’s getting filthy wealthy, which is beyond rich. Record companies were just a bad deal to begin with. [The artist] would have to sell a gazillion records just to make any kind of substantial profit. Who wants to deal with that? But the government does need to concentrate on protecting artists based on the new technology. I don’t think it’s right to download something someone else created from nothing without paying them, just because you have the technology to do so. It sends a bad message that you can get something for free and as you well know… Nothing in this life is for free. Follow the technology, adhere to it, know it and master it or it will master you and life will move on without you.
I read that Sam Cooke was one of your early inspirations. He had some key ties to Cleveland. What is your relationship like with our city? When you think of performing in Cleveland, what comes to mind?
Cleveland is one of the coolest places on the planet. They are very passionate about the things that they like. My music is based on sincerity and real feelings and real motivation, which leads to real romance and real sex [laughs]. Which is a lot different from what’s going on out there right now at the moment. I think my love affair with Cleveland includes the Front Row Theater and getting my ass pinched as I walked to and from the stage… panties on the stage… wallets and purses filled with people’s prized possessions including money. It was like someone was passing a collection plate or something. You would think it was some evangelistic hocus pocus!
Tell us a little about The Colors of Christmas. What can we expect from the show?
First of all there are not that many people who are the genuine article. We’re good at what we do. You’ll get a sense of what a real program is using raw based talent that’s seasoned and honed and admired and loved. It is the best Christmas program on the planet for the past 25 years. Everything is manifest to the audience in that program. Too much glitz and glamour are to distract from what performing really is. This program is filled with people who’ve done major things in their careers. You can expect the best of the best of the best.
The entire line-up is stellar. And not that you can’t hold your own, but do you ever get nervous?
[Big laugh] You don’t ever have to worry about that. I don’t wake up and wonder if I’m me and hope that I’m going to sing like Peabo Bryson today. I’m me. When you come to see me perform that’s exactly what you get, me. That’s the nature of all the artists involved in this. I don’t know fear in that way. There’s only one thing that hasn’t changed about “Colors of Christmas” since the very first one 25 years ago and that’s me. I’ve done them all.
How does that make you feel?
You understand it for what it is… a blessing. Who wouldn’t want to hear Jennifer Holiday sing? Who wouldn’t want to hear Lea Salonga sing? Those are two of the finest voices on the planet. You know what a great vocalist is Felicia?
I’m sure you’re gonna tell me…
Make no mistake about it. A great vocalist is a vocalist that has no limitations in genre or range. They’ll sing anything including the phone book if that’s what’s put in front of them.
Is that God given or can anyone achieve it?
It’s something that you come here with that He’s given you. But it’s up to you as an individual to hone the gift and fine tune it to its highest level. It certainly doesn’t come from me. I’m just its landlord at this point.
Your voice was heard for years as part of the “One Life to Live” theme song. That and other soaps have been a part of people’s lives for so long. How do you feel about them going off the air?
[Starts singing theme] Aww, I was sad about that as well “All My Children” are you kidding? If you’ve never watched a soap opera, those were the two I would suggest. I was almost nominated for an Emmy for Erica and Dimitri’s love theme, seriously. Missed it by that much. That would have made me Oscar, Grammy, Emmy winner in the same year. I’ve been on both those programs. I’ve been to Pine Valley. I thought it would be bigger [laughs].
Did you ever secretly (or openly) tape soap operas on VHS like most people’s grannys? C’mon, you can tell us! Lol.
No, I actually stayed at home and watched. I wanted to see it as it was happening ‘cause someone might tell me what happened before I got the chance to watch it.
What’s next? Is there anything else you want to do?
The only thing I haven’t done is feature film. But I don’t even want to do anything like that until it means something. I’m a single digit handicap There’s only three people in the world who sing better than me. Many sing differently, but none who sing better. I don’t care who you think you are if you step on a stage with me, I will sing your ass under a table. No qualms about it. But don’t mistake confidence for a lack of humility. I was raised that way and I don’t make any apologies for it.
The Colors of Christmas will feature vocalists Peabo Bryson, Jennifer Holliday, Lea Salonga and Ben Vereen performing with the Cleveland Orchestra Dec. 20 and 21 at Severance Hall. Visit www.clevelandorchestra.com for tickets and further info.