When you think of Southern music cities, you probably think of Nashville or Austin. But Charlotteans don't have to travel beyond our city limits to hear world-class talent. We caught up with five area musicians you're either already following...or soon will be.
Brianna Smith (The Performer)If you saw Actors Theatre’s recent production of Dream A Little Dream, you were a) lucky to get tickets for the mostly sold-out run and b) probably astounded by Brianna Smith’s Mama Cass. The Chicago-born, Austin-raised Smith, 28, delivered a powerhouse performance that broke hearts and left us wanting more.
The musical, based on the story of The Mamas and The Papas, may have been Smith’s star turn, but she was born to be on stage. “I grew up in a family of singers and musicians,” she says. “However, most of my training has encouraged the synthesis of acting, movement and music. At this point, they seem so intermingled that I just tell people I'm a performer.”
Smith is the founding artistic director of TAPROOT Ensemble and has performed with Davidson Community Players, Queen City Theatre Company and Piedmont Players. She sings with Charlotte Community Singers and Judith Polk and the Haul Ashes. The Plaza Midwood resident gets around. (Often by bike.)
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Her dream roles include Fantine in Les Miserables and Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, but she says, “I am lucky to have already [played] some of the roles on my bucket list.” www.digdeepgetdirty.com
John Parker (The Classicist) At 22, John Parker is the youngest member of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, as well as its principal trumpeter. Parker, who moved to Charlotte – the SouthPark area, in fact – in January, started playing piano at age 7 and took up trumpet at 10. He has studied at the prestigious Aspen Music Festival, but his first teachers were his mom and dad – both music educators.
The High Point, N.C. native and UNC grad has a soft spot for Mahler's Second Symphony, better known as the Resurrection Symphony. “Ever since I heard the New York Philharmonic perform this piece on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 it has been my favorite.”
Beethoven's Emperor Concert (Oct. 31 and Nov. 1) is the concert Parker is most looking forward to this season. It features one of his favorite pieces, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben.
But Parker’s tastes go beyond classical. “Most of my friends make fun of me for it,” he says. “But I have all of Carrie Underwood's albums on my iPod.” He also admits to reluctantly attending a Justin Timberlake concert with his girlfriend – and secretly enjoying it. www.charlottesymphony.org
Quentin Talley (The Impresario) The Greenwood, S.C. raised Quentin Talley, 35, came to Charlotte after college and stuck around by accident. “I met some great artists and we had a collective energy,” he says. “Before I knew it, I was calling Charlotte home.”
Talley, a NoDa resident, does it all. “My first love is acting, though I think I have a knack for directing,” he says. He’s also a singer, poet and producer. He recently began performing in NoDa weekly for Soulful Sundays, a mash-up of music, poetry and comedy.
Talley’s On Q Performing Arts, the city’s premier African-American theater company, stages classic and contemporary plays and musicals, as well as original work like Miles & Coltrane: Blue. That show goes on the road in November after already making two trips to the prestigious Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. It tells the story – through music, dance, theater and poetry – of the two tortured jazz greats and remains the work Talley (who edited the script and plays Coltrane) is proudest of. www.youarenowonq.com
Kelly Hutchinson (The Community-Minded Diva) “I love to perform in borrowed spaces, unusual spaces,” says Kelly Hutchinson, 38. “That's the best way to truly take the production to the community ... serve it in [people’s] back yards.” This fall, her Mosaic-Arts will perform in an art gallery, a bar and several churches. Not where you ordinarily hear opera.
Mosaic is a multidisciplinary visual and performing arts company making its Charlotte debut this fall. Hutchinson founded the company in upstate New York before moving back to her native North Carolina. She says the company will have an “operatic base” but will also feature dance, visual art, theater and spoken word.
Mosaic’s first production, in November, is a condensed version of Gounod's Faust. In December, the group will stage Amahl and the Night Visitors.
Hutchinson, a soprano, is a voice instructor at Mitchell Community College in Statesville, where she directs the student choir. She’s in her second season with Opera Carolina, which she credits with connecting Mosaic to “a small army of the very best singers and technicians.”www.mosaic-arts.org
Maddie Shuler (The Wunderkind)
“I've been singing for as long as I can remember,” says Maddie Shuler. But she doesn’t have to think back too far. She’s 19.
She made her debut at the Tosco Music Party, a house concert series, when she was 12. In fact, local legend John Tosco was her guitar teacher. He worked with her on writing original songs and introduced her to one of Charlotte’s best-known percussionists, Jim Brock, who produced Shuler’s CD, Roots and Wings.
The folkie says she plays “a little bit of everything [and] experiments with whatever I can get my hands on.” Her main instrument is guitar, but she also plays bass, piano, percussion, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and drums.
Her taste in music runs from Chris Thile (“his writing and melodic and rhythmic talents inspire me,” she says) to the jam band, Phish.
The Providence High School alum and Berklee College of Music (class of 2017) student has played the Evening Muse, Double Door and Summit Coffeehouse in Davidson, but she may not be back in her native Charlotte for a while. This prodigy has to finish school before she returns to her first loves – recording and touring. www.reverbnation.com/maddieshuler