When music travels, there is an ever silkened flow. A myriad of Universal rhythms, which has come to shake the world back into balance. Returning it into its Universal rhythm and beat. It becomes part of this decor of travel’s mystique. An artist wears it as a symbol of honor. Music truly brings release and wellness to the Soul. There is something magical, that takes place when music is performed, within a given spacing. When music travels to ancient lands, known for being a haven of the mystique, the performance is even more sacred and Divine. The experience takes on a certain coloring, when the performer travels from afar. Having been blessed with the gift of musical artistry and education, he is honored by receiving one once entering the haven of, three.
Dr. Kevin Johnson happens to be one of those special beings, gifted in Universal sound. One that continues to bring about vocal timbers of richness. A coloration that is rare, and managed to radiate throughout the spacing inside of Ewart Memorial Hall on The American University In Cairo’s Tahrir campus, (December 5, 2019), as the baritone soloist for famed oratorio, Elijah, by Felix Mendelssohn; as directed by Dr. John Baboukis-AUC Professor of Music and Director of the Music Program). Of course, that’s for another writing.
In delving further with baritone singer Dr. Kevin Johnson, much was needed to be highlighted when it came to this journey of spiritual awareness. This path of re-assessment. After all, musicians and artists have a special world. A world of invisible color, design, patterns, timbre, sound, and other artistic delights, which are hidden by the masses. Only those special few are granted access. And, once they are, those precious Beings are given the responsibility to present that level of Heavenly and europhic aesthetics to the masses. Shaking up their realities; ever reminding them that another healing is at play.
In Dr. Kevin Johnson’s own spiritual re-assessment, journey, re-grouping, and awakening to this blessing called music, is explored even further. Allow us to delve into a musical wellness journey for one operatic vocalist, father, husband (to Alicia Johnson), educator, inner city, youth advocate, and artist.
Lauren K. Clark: When did you know that music was your calling?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: Honestly, I’ve always known somewhere within me. It was more about accepting the possibility of music as a profession. This was the beginning of my time at Morehouse College, Fall 2003.
Lauren K. Clark: During your time at Morehouse College, what are some of your most highlighted memories in your mastery of music’s treasures?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: There are many that stick with me. Late night studying with my brothers, due to some impossible exam from Dr. Grimes’ Advanced Theory Class; taking ear training courses on the Glee Club Spring Tour bus, while others slept; relentless, intensive, productive, and humbling voice lessons. I would say that from all this, during my last year at Morehouse College, I sang for the Georgia State Summer Opera Program, where I participated in opera scenes; the Atlanta Opera Scenes for Carmina Burana and Pagliacci; sang 2 solos for the Morehouse College Glee Club, which went on to be recorded; baritone for the MCGC quartet; actively worked for Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia; and sang part-time for a church in Decatur.
Lauren K. Clark: In an earlier conversation, you mentioned coming to Egypt, as a dream of yours. Did you ever think that this dream would come true?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: One day. I tend not to give up on dreams. Some just take longer to accomplish than others.
Lauren K. Clark: Your recent performance, as a guest soloist, with the Cairo Chorale Society, immersed you into the world of “Elijah.” Your performance, as the lead soloist, took you into the world of Biblical understanding, through an operatic texture. Describe this experience. How did it strengthen your performance as a singer?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: The experience is something I desire most when singing. The opportunity to connect deeply to the work and provide something meaningful for those listening. Elijah has been one of my favorite sacred works ever written, and I consider it an honor to perform this work. It gives a work new life, when the setting provided, can enhance the story.
Lauren K. Clark: In your visit to the pyramids, what is one memory, that stands out? How does it connect to your spiritual essence? How is that essence connected to music?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: My visit was a bit overwhelming. To stand next to, and on, such ancient structures. To feel the weight of it all, while walking inside. It made me feel small and provided humility. Spiritually, it made me consider my purpose and time I’ve been given. It made me contemplate my own impact on the world. Would I leave behind a footprint and impose as these structures and their history? What are the implications of my creation and design?
Lauren K. Clark: Your wife, newborn baby girl, and remaining family members, were unable to accommodate you on your journey to Cairo, Egypt. Which means, in the future, a trip for your entire family is planned. Yet, if you could share some of your most profound and memorable experiences in Cairo, what would they be?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: I would share my journey to the pyramids, my way through Old Cairo and Zamalek, and my trip to the Bazaar. The joy in travel is often for me, to experience the breath of the people. How they live their lives, and exist as humans in a section of the world I don’t often get to visit. It grounds you to desire more for yourself and appreciate (or not) what you call home.
Lauren K. Clark: As a brother in song, how was performing in Cairo different from any other place, where you have performed?
Dr. Kevin Johnson:. My response may seem selfish, but this trip was for me. I am convinced there was a purpose to this solo travel experience. There was a purpose for wife, child, and family to stay home. It was a moment of pride to take my experiences with me and represent those that have come before me in a positive light. This trip was a chance for me to own who and what I am.
Lauren K. Clark: After your last and final performance night with the Cairo Chorale Society, and its performance of “Elijah,” how would you reflect upon your performance?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: I want more. I’d love to sing the work until I die. I want more opportunities in Cairo and elsewhere abroad. I’ll always be my harshest critic and the opportunity to sing better is part of the drive to want more. Classical musicians are perfectionists, at heart. We want the moment of ecstasy, that comes with the perfect performance. We want to replicate the moment/feeling, expand, and improve it. While I am proud of what I’ve done, it only motivates me to improve upon what has already taken place.
Dr. Kevin Johnson: If you could articulate the phrase “magic of the night,” and its relation to Cairo, what would you say?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: Struggling for an answer.
Lauren K. Clark: Coming from a Black American culture, do you feel that the essence, artistry, and aesthetics of Black American culture and identity has empowered you in your first performance in Cairo, Egypt?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: It has. I would say that the essence, artistry, and aesthetics of Black American culture are understood best by those, who live in its truths. It becomes my responsibility to show the world these truths and defy thr assumptions, placed upon me when I enter an unfamiliar space. You travel, domestically or internationally, you can often tell what others are expecting from you. Though, I don’t ask to be the sole face for a culture or race at any given moment, that expectation will be placed upon me by those with narrow views and ideas. I take it as a point of pride to stand on a stage, engage in such beauty, and show the world who I am and what I can be.
Lauren K. Clark: Who have been your biggest inspirations? Who first influenced your decision to go into music?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: My parents raised me to pursue my dream and desires, unapologetically. I watched them struggle and thrive, through the course of my life and their perseverance inspires me. I get strength from my wife, who stands us consistently, no matter how hard of a strike life has delivered to her. Each moment of my life has been filled with people, who have guided me on this path. For music, it started with The Macvicars and Mrs. Alston was my choral teacher. The Macs and Mrs. Alston did not tolerate excuses from me, and demanded only the best representation of myself and my family. Without those three, may not have grown up to be a musician.
Lauren K. Clark: Tell us a little about your research in the field of music, and its connection to the current generation of Black American youth, in the urban areas.
Dr. Kevin Johnson: I have been involved with public education for about 13 years. I have seen the impact music has on our children. No matter the age or background, music has a voice of influence. Music has always shaped how we think, see, and feel the world around us. Now, more than ever, music provided a medium of connection for a generation, eager to touch the world. Authentic connections to music can lead to authentic connections to the world. Children understand more, learn more, think more freely, express emotions in a healthier manner, when they have deep connections to the arts and music. I currently work for “Education Through Music,” in New York City. Education Through Music partners with under-sourced schools to provide music, as a core subject. We have 70 partner schools and reach an 36,000 students Eve week. It is my personal goal to provide authentic experiences in music to all children so they they may connect more deeply with themselves and their world. Working for Education The Music affords me the opportunity to refine my craft as an educator, musician, and administrator. Currently, I’ve taken to the task of understanding the relationship between Social Justice and Music Education. It has been a very deep dive and I still feel shallow in my research. This intersection will most likely be something, that stays with me my whole life. We live in a time of great social change and as an educator, it is my responsibility to facilitate the transition for younger students. There is work to be done in this regard so that those, who have lived the experience of change can be the ones to teach the next generation. Black experiences for Black youth, LGBTQIA+ experiences for LGBTQIA+youths, Latinx experiences for Latinx youths, and so forth. Right now, the one voices are often at the front lines, making themselves heard, as they advocate for others. My goal is to empower all children in urban environments to learn from their ancestors, living and gone; for them to advocate for themselves and their children; for them to be heard. Music education provides a voice and connection to the world for the voiceless. Its a means of engaging with the world, the our emotions and creativity.
Lauren K. Clark: What are some of your upcoming performances, and what future projects can we anticipate for, in the future?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: I will be singing the Faure Requiem at Delaware State University, at the beginning of May. I also will perform with the Brooklyn Metro Chamber Orchestra, in May, and the Long Lake Music Festival in July.
Lauren K. Clark: Congratulations to your placing for the Benjamin Matthews 2019 Box Competition, and your recent performance with other winners on February 22, 2020. Are future vocal competitions in the works?
Dr. Kevin Johnson: Unknown. To be discussed with my manager, but I doubt this is the end.
The current times call for the amplifying of more music, than ever before. An inner reflection of life’s connection to it. How this power of artistic divinity propels us to create, during these periods of discomfort. Its the music and artistry, which allows people to know that hope is always present. We are in a time of inner reflection. Everyone is going through this period of seeing just what actually matters in this thing called, life. And, then again, its during this time when music and artist, arise!
This article is also dedicated to the legacy of Mrs. Coretta Scott King! Today is her 93rd Heavenly Birthday. Civil Rights Activist. Mother. Wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (A Morehouse Man) Vocalist. Pianist. Musician. Spelman Woman!