Diversity helps us to understand our world better. The world is not made up of any one thing…..diversity is everywhere and when you embrace it you realize it is a need.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Roger Thomas of Naturally 7.
Certain experiences burn themselves in your memory from the very first encounter. The jaw-dropping audio pyrotechnics that Naturally 7 put on display every night absolutely belong in that category. “A capella group” so vastly underplays what they create onstage that they had to coin a phrase — “Vocal Play” — to more accurately depict what they do. Naturally 7 is more than a tightly orchestrated collection of great singers. They transform their voices into actual human instruments, effortlessly producing music of any genre. Their vocal choreography is so perfectly interwoven that they compelled the musical maestro himself, Quincy Jones, to declare them “The best a cappella group in the world!” Their sonic mastery was on full display in a series of unforgettable performances on “The World’s Best” TV show, which premiered on CBS immediately following Super Bowl LIII. Hosted by comedian and “Car Karaoke” collaborator, James Corden, Naturally 7 reigned supreme as the world’s “Best Group,” and cemented their singular status among the planet’s musical elite.
This was only icing on the cake of a still-vibrant 20-year career, which includes 3 world tours — nearly 500 shows — with the incomparable Michael Bublé and shared billing with global phenomenon Coldplay — including a soldout show at the Barclays Center. In addition to Bublé, Naturally 7 has shared the stage with numerous icons, including Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Sarah Connor, Lionel Richie, Ludacris, The Roots, and more. Counted among their world-famous fans are President Barack Obama, Will.I.Am., Ellen DeGeneres, Craig Ferguson, Bill and Melinda Gates, Jay Leno, Allan Titchmarsh, Mo’Nique, Jools Holland, and Arsenio Hall, along with countless others.
With the release of their latest project, 20/20, Naturally 7 comes full circle, adding a fresh spin on 20 fan favorites, hand selected by fans the world over. This, their eleventh studio album, celebrates their 20th anniversary in the music industry, giving music lovers all they could hope for, and then some. For the members of Naturally 7 — “Ricky“ Lee Ricardo Cort, Rod Eldridge, Kelvin “Kelz“ Mitchell, Sean Simmonds, Dwight Stewart, Roger Thomas, and Warren Thomas — it’s a privilege to do what they love and bring so much joy to the hearts of their fans each and every night. It’s exactly what you would expect. When something is pure magic it’s destined to withstand the test of time. Naturally…
Thank you for joining us in this series, Roger. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the Bronx and later Queens, New York. My brother (Warren Thomas) and I are originally from Manchester, England and moved to the United States when we were 11 and 10 years old. As young children we listened to our Dad’s gospel group doing concerts around the UK. This made the teamwork of a group combined with a stage a magical place for us. After coming to New York, we were then introduced to the sound of early Hip Hop and in many cases happened to be in the right place at the right time to witness the Patriarchs of the genre.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Our sound as Naturally 7 is called “Vocal Play”. We coined this phrase around 10 years ago to describe our style of a cappella. As the leader and musical director of the band, I and many of my bandmates were attracted to the a cappella sound from our church roots. Many of our local churches in our denomination had a cappella groups. But because of my love for Hip Hop and innovation, I was driven to make an amalgamation of all things I loved. Beatboxing had been brought to the forefront by artists such as Doug E. Fresh and the Fat Boys and the improv of jazz artists like Bobby Mcferrin. I was interested in putting it all together. Could I make an entire band from no band! Could we all start imitating musical sounds so well that people would believe they were hearing real instruments? The answer was yes — and this became our claim to fame :-).
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It’s hard to get to know what’s the most interesting story when we have so many! But I think I’ll go with this one; While doing a promotion tour in London, our record company or publicist had us do an evening radio show that was akin to the Howard Stern show. I remember wondering what we were doing there and how our music was supposed to fit this format and show. I swore to myself that I was going to really lean into whoever was responsible for having us there. We performed maybe 2 or 3 songs and I thought the whole thing was just stupid. The next day, we did a full concert and Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Brian Eno (Super Producer, Roxy Music) came out to see us. Why? Because they heard us the night before on the radio show! We ended up hanging out with Coldplay in the studio the following day and becoming friends; going to each other’s shows for years to come. We eventually opened one of the biggest Coldplay shows in the US at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for New Year’s Eve 2013. The lesson learned: You never know who is listening……don’t be so fast to judge!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One that comes to mind is thinking we could sell 500 CDs to a crowd of 500! Lol, it still makes me laugh today at our greenness. It was our first show with CDs we had just pressed up and we didn’t account for the fact that people are in family groups, couples, not interested, don’t have enough money, didn’t bring money and simply in a rush. We sold about 50–100 CDs and didn’t realize that that would be considered extremely high for that amount of people. We went home feeling bad not knowing we should have been feeling good. Nothing funny about that at the time. But certainly years later 🙂
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, we are working on a full 60-minute virtual concert show, as a review of this crazy year of 2020. We are looking to tour with it in December and virtually go from country to country. We will try to make this up-close-and-personal for our fans all round the world. Showcasing things they could never experience when we are traditionally on a stage. It should be a whole lot of fun. It will certainly be a whole lot of work to prepare.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
#1. Diversity helps us to understand our world better. The world is not made up of any one thing…..diversity is everywhere and when you embrace it you realize it is a need.
#2. It’s just like cuisines. We find ourselves wanting to taste other ways of preparing food. And the more we open ourselves to trying, the more our tastes grow. Growth is nearly always a good thing.
#3. Learning how others live, love and express themselves in the arts is almost as good as traveling in real time and/or in a time machine. It is the greatest teacher.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
•Learn as fast as you can how to delegate and teach others what special things you may know so that there’s not as much pressure and time lost in trying to do things yourself.
•Keep a diary. Your memory, videos and photos cannot compete with writing about it.
•The importance of social media before it was called social media! Make sure your videos are on your channels. Our highest top ten viewed YouTube videos are not owned by us and they should be.
•Always build a mailing list.
•Keep ownership of your publishing.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Do not choose to be in this industry unless you “have to do it.” Not “want to” but “have to.” The ups and the downs of the music business can kill the hopes and dreams of those who are here for the wrong reasons!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Teaching students about real life in school and bringing back the arts. Taxes, real estate, mortgages, credit scores and so many essentials are not taught in school in our country. If they were, the nation would be completely different. And leaving the arts behind has only left people empty.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say Michael Bublé & Quincy Jones. Quincy because he’s a living legend. And when you get a huge compliment from an industry giant it fully validates your artistry. Michael Bublé because we toured with him for 7 years, which is very unusual in the music business to tour together for so long. Performing for more than 4 million people. We’ve become great friends.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well”
This quote that my Dad taught me helped me to understand that everything isn’t worth doing. But once you decide that it is worthwhile, it pays in so many ways to make it your best work. You never know who’s watching.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Paul Simon. I’m a big Simon & Garfunkel fan. As a songwriter and innovator, I appreciate any artist who pushes the boundaries. That’s Paul Simon’s middle name.
How can our readers follow you online?