Jubilant Sykes is an artist who feels at home with all kinds of music -- from Bach to Billboard Top 40 to Broadway standards. As All Things Considered host Michele Norris reports, this classically trained baritone is gaining a wider audience through word-of-mouth acclaim for his latest CD, Wait For Me.
"As a boy, he began singing soprano in his native Los Angeles," Norris says. "When his voice began to change, he lost interest -- until a teacher showed him that he could indeed make beautiful music with his deepening teenage voice."
That teacher, Sykes says, was Linda Anderson. "She turned me on to classical music... I thought Bach was like Stevie Wonder!" he exclaims with his usual passion.
From that epiphany sprang a career in music that's lasted more than two decades. Jubilant Sykes has performed in some of the world's premier concert halls, singing everything from opera to Broadway tunes. With Wait For Me, Sykes has added a new dimension to his repertoire -- he covers pop, gospel and folk songs.
"Jubilant Sykes says he feels at home in most every musical genre," Norris says. "And it's clear talking with him that he approaches every song with respect, focus and humility." It's also clear that he approaches every project, every song, with a seriousness that belies his easy smile.
"In life there is an extraordinary pain, and I don't believe that you can sing without having a little bit of pain in life," he says. "The fact that we're all alive is a great gift, but pain is always coupled in there. I don't think you can have great love without great pain.
"Art, to me, can be extreme pain... but with all the vulgarity of living and life, there is refinement. There must be refinement someplace. Technique, laboring, grinding, working -- when everyone else is skateboarding outside, I'm sitting at the piano, grinding away at this madness. So I can be, not successful, but excellent. I want to be excellent. Technique is foremost."
And Sykes makes it look easy. "My singing is like breathing -- it's an extension of me. I don't think of it is extraordinary. It's my passion."