LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT. I think fear in art comes from the understanding that something is important to you. The knowledge that you really love it and therefore wouldn’t want to do anything to ruin it. Like, one wrong note would ruin an entire song album or genre. That’s way too much pressure. So, you kind of have to trust that you love it so much that even your worst couldn’t harm it. Then let it go, so you can get to work.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kyle Taylor Parker.
Originally cast as an Angel in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots, Kyle Taylor Parker went on to headline the First National Tour of Kinky Boots as Lola and later became the first actor to replace Tony Award-winner Billy Porter in the role on Broadway. Over the last decade, Kyle has been seen on Broadway, television, and on some of the most celebrated stages in the country including the Apollo and Radio City Music Hall. Kyle moved on from Kinky Boots to be featured in the original Broadway cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Smokey Joe’s Café revival Off Broadway, and NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live! All of this while carving out a unique place for himself in the music scene by marrying his love of musical theatre and Soul/R&B. In 2017, Kyle started a series of YouTube videos called “The Soul Sessions” with collaborator Joshua Stephen Kartes. The pair would take popular songs from the Broadway canon and outfit them as bona fide soul standards. This video series quickly became a live concert series and showcases of Kyle’s unique powerhouse vocals; described by All About Jazz as “a clarion crisp voice… that lives on freedom rather than any fuel.” Connect with Kyle at @ktpway on all social platforms.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I moved a lot growing up. The constants in my life have always been my mother, my grandmother, and my love for theatre. My mom works in public health. Some my greatest adventures have been by her side. We lived on the Ivory coast for three years while she worked as a subcontractor to USAID focusing on prevention and awareness of HIV/AIDS. As an only child in a foreign land, my imagination quickly became my best friend. I’d create and star in one man shows produced and presented in my bedroom and make my family book tickets in advance with the box office representative (me). The years were spent with my mother and grandmother overseas, and the summers were spent stateside with my father in Washington D.C. attending a theatre camp offered by Howard University. Shortly after the Ivorian Coup of 1999, my mother and I returned to the states to live with my grandmother in another foreign territory: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I never felt a strong sense of belonging there, but the arts programs at my middle and high schools gave me a safe place to exist. Those seven years in Wisconsin felt like a waiting room to the life I dreamt of living. Then, like now, theatre, music and imagination have gotten me through it all.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My mother exposed me to a lot of art and theatre growing up, but I didn’t catch the “bug” until about seven or eight years old. My parents were getting divorced and I was really taking it hard, so my mom got me into a local arts program to give me something to do while she handled the very adult business of her life. I remember being very shy, quiet and fragile every place I’d show up in the world, except for those classes every Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm at The Duke Ellington school of the arts. It was clear that this was not something I liked to do but it was something I needed to do. So, I stuck with it and eventually teachers started noticing something special in me and suggested more challenging programs for my mother to enroll me in. It wasn’t until my second summer at Interlochen Arts camp that I realized this was a career. Once I learned that, all bets were off I knew how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I came to New York with the goal of becoming a version of all the people I’d admired growing up. I had no sense of self other than the familiar glimpses I caught through their work. One weekend while still in acting school a friend of mine invited me to a master class in Brooklyn held by AndréDe Shields, theatre royalty and a major hero of mine. At the end of the class, I approached Mr. De Shields and said “Thank you for your work and for this class. I hope to be you someday.” His answer? “I’m already here. If you spend your whole life trying to be me; you’ll look up one day and realize I’m gone and wonder then, who are you?” I moved to New York with the idea to become one thing and instead have found all the many things I am.
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?
Kinky Boots on Broadway was the first show I’d ever done for more than 4 months at a time. Well, one night after doing the show for nearly a year I made the biggest mistake of my career to date. I misjudged the amount of time I had between numbers while taking a breather in my dressing room 6 flights up from the stage. As I began to make my way down the stairs to close act one with the rest of the company, I realized I wasn’t wearing my wig. I ran like hell down to my hairdresser — missing my first entrance on stage left. Blazing through the basement of the theatre to stage right, I made it just in time to join my fellow ensemble members to continue the number. I can laugh at it now, but man was I embarrassed. Lesson learned: comfort is the enemy, keep your wig on!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve just finished recording my second album, “Broadway Soul, vol. 2.” The album was made during the pandemic and recorded remotely from home studios across North America. My vocals however, were recorded from my closet on a Shure sm7b mic. I learned a teeny bit about engineering in order to deliver the vocals to my producers Sonny Paladino and Rich Mercurio who are responsible for the high-quality sound of the album and much more. It’s the most collaborative project I’ve ever worked on in the least conducive time for collaboration. It’s a concept album, re-imagining Broadway classics with an R&B twist and it’s available digitally February 12th on all streaming platforms.
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?
It’s my understanding that film and tv is all about story telling. Story telling is rooted in truth. How can the world be truthfully portrayed, explored and shared through only one lens of experience? I believe we are our best as a human race when we connect. I think we are our best as story tellers when we bring our individual understandings of life to the light and compare notes.
The refusal to greenlight projects that do not tell the single story deemed acceptable or universal by the typically white male majority also sends a message to the audiences not represented. That message is “ you don’t matter. That story isn’t worth telling”. I can’t see how that’s useful for any of us.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a Ted Talk on the danger of a single story and how by seeing only one side of a story we cannot accept appreciate or find the universal themes in it. As a society we get most of our “stories” from film and television, if these stories do not begin to represent the robust, fully diverse world we live in, I fear we are in grave danger of entering a stasis where race relations, healing and compassion are concerned globally.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. GET A PRODUCER. The biggest difference between my first album and second album is the team. Having Sonny Paladino produce and Rich Mercurio co-produce enhanced the work, lifted the pressure off of me to be something I’m not and made for a collaboration that set the tone and musical landscape of the project.
2. GOOD INPUT EQUALS EXCELLENT OUTPUT. As a musician, I think every sound you hear can inspire and inform the sound you want to make. A few years back I was standing next to a friend of mine at a soundcheck for a multi artist concert. After each check he’d whisper to me what the sound reminded him of. “He listens to Stevie wonder. She listens to Tori Kelly. Oh, that’s a Patti Labelle fan.” I agreed and eventually asked if there was a point to this game. His answer “Good input equals excellent output. Listen to everything. Train your ear to know what sound you want to make.” That advice changed my life.
3. START A SEPARATE SAVINGS ACCOUNT FOR CREATIVE PROJECTS. Art isn’t easy and it sure ain’t cheap. Once I got into the habit of saving not just to live but saving to create, my life became much more peaceful and focused.
4. ASK QUESTIONS. Whatever you don’t know find out before doing anything else. I would have saved myself a lot of headaches in the beginning if I didn’t operate from the “ it’ll sort itself out” mentality. Some things do sort themselves out, but in my experience, they are the exception to the rule. Research then act.
5. LOVE IT AND LEAVE IT. I think fear in art comes from the understanding that something is important to you. The knowledge that you really love it and therefore wouldn’t want to do anything to ruin it. Like, one wrong note would ruin an entire song album or genre. That’s way too much pressure. So, you kind of have to trust that you love it so much that even your worst couldn’t harm it. Then let it go, so you can get to work.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take breaks. Call your friends. You don’t have to do it all today — it all adds up in the end.
* All things I could benefit from remembering.
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. 🙂
I’d want to inspire a movement to remove the word “but” from our vocabulary and replace it with “and.” This way when a person shares a story, feeling or idea with another that isn’t totally agreed upon the conversation begins with “ok and” as opposed to “ok BUT” I think, many more people will feel heard this way. Which is good. I think a lot of life’s “tiny terribles” come from a place of not feeling heard or considered or worthy “and” might fix this.
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?
Jerry Mitchell has been a fierce supporter of my growth as an artist and a person for years. He’s known me since I was nothing but a ball of talent, training and dreams. He’s fostered that into something full out, present, and ever evolving. He’s the first big “yes” I ever received and my favorite person to be in a room with creatively. He demands the best of you as an artist and in turn brings the best of himself to every process.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I have nothing to prove and everything to share”
When I lead from this, I’m better, bigger, stronger and clearer. When I first started out as an artist, I had a lot of negative self-talk going on that usually stemmed from things I heard from bullies, or unhelpful onlookers in my past. Those thoughts can be boiled down to three sentences “ who do you think you are?”” do you think you’re better than us?” and “you don’t have what it takes.” Much of my early success was achieved by proving the negative of these statements wrong. I’d make myself small to make people comfortable, I’d keep a low profile to not gain attention and then I’d sing like hell to prove that I indeed had what it took. Essentially, I was taking the defensive driving approach to my life and my art. Which kept me safe, but it didn’t really give me space to breathe, be myself or grow. Once I entered the “share zone,” everything got better. My relationships, my self-esteem, and my work. It’s hard work but totally worth it. I think, to be an artist you have to be brave enough to meet your true self and share it as often as possible.
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?
Michaela Coel. She is revolutionary, charming brave and fascinating. Her words and ideas can move mountains and I feel like she has great stories for brunch.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!