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A Full-Circle Moment- The Duke and the Queen

I moved to New York City when I was 19 but by the age of 22, I was standing in the middle of Duke Ellington’s living room auditioning to sing with him.  The whole thing was orchestrated by my manager at the time Norma Rein, who had a friend, who knew Duke.  I will never forget that day, my audition song was “How Great Thou Art” and I was a bag of nerves from the time I started to the time I closed my mouth with the last word.  I did not know what he thought of me because he had a poker face the whole time.  It was not until later that I got the call.  He asked me learn the songs “Come Sunday” and “the 23rd Psalm,” in order to do the Sacred Concert with him at the Grace Cathedral so that is what I did. 

I was already anxious about the show because it was going to be my first professional performance ever and the media coverage on this event made my jitters even worse.  What could I do?  The show had to go on. Needless to say, the show went on and there I was a 22-year-old girl from Newport News, VA performing with Duke Ellington and his orchestra.  God had brought me through it and Duke Ellington was so impressed, he asked me to continue the Midwest Tour with him.  Of course I said yes and my life was forever changed as we traveled both nationally and internationally.

On September 17,2015, in a full circle moment, I went back to the Grace Cathedral and along with musical director Miguel Zenon, performed the same exact songs in the same place that I did 50 years ago in the reenactment of the Sacred Concert. I was the only original member from the premiere show held in 1965.  I cannot say that this did not come without nervousness but what I can say is that from the moment I stood in Duke’s living room years ago, God had already equipped me with everything needed for that moment.  I learned so much from Duke Ellington and have always carried a part of him with me while performing for millions around the world.

When I first set out to New York, I had no intention of becoming a singer.  I knew I had some type of voice but had no idea of the path that God was laying before me.  Taking the initial step may not always be comfortable but it will be necessary and it was indeed necessary for me.  Overcoming fear with faith is what led me into a career that I am so passionate about.  It has taken me not only to the Broadway stage but to places I would have never imagined.  The road has not always been easy but it has been worth it.  In life, you deal with ups and downs but it is up to you on whether to step out on faith or be paralyzed by fear.

We do not know the plan that God has for us but I encourage you to take that initial step because it will be rewarding in the end. 

Queen