Shawn Faison is a man of few words. But put a microphone in his hands, a thumping bass line and a funky guitar lick behind him, and Faison opens to the world.
Faison is a 20-year-old Concord resident with autism that limits his verbal communication skills. He loves any kind of music and there is no limit to his expression when the tunes play.
On Oct. 17, Faison performed with a band from his music school at the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks at zMax Dragway. It was meaningful for Faison and his family, who have witnessed his personality open up in the last year since he started taking to the stage.
“I’m very proud of him for having the courage to get in front of an audience and perform,” said his mother, Pamela Faison. “I’m honored he was asked to sing and that he can show his abilities. He’s living with (autism) but it doesn’t stop him from what he likes to do.”
A fan of jazz, classic and new rock, rap, and R&B, Faison’s instrument of choice is the drums. Pressed to answer if he likes country music too, Faison snapped back quickly.
“Not even close,” he said.
Faison is a big fan of the hard-rock band Korn but he’s quick to point out that some of his favorite songs are from rock ‘n’ roll’s golden era: Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by The Beach Boys.
I’m very proud of him for having the courage to get in front of an audience and perform.
Pamela Faison, Shawn’s mother
Faison’s affinity for music and his potential to play it was first recognized by one of his teachers when his family lived in Georgia. His interest in music continued as he grew older and his family (including father Shawn Sr. and older brother Kenneth) moved to Concord a few years ago.
A 2013 graduate of Mount Pleasant High School, Faison has taken some general education classes at Rowan Cabarrus Community College. Naturally, some of his favorite classes have been chorus and history of rock ‘n’ roll.
About a year ago, his mom and dad enrolled him at Rock University, a performance-band-based music school near Charlotte Motor Speedway. Owned and operated by Harrisburg residents Kevin and Karen Corzine, Rock University encourages students to quickly ascend from classroom lessons to playing in one of its bands.
Its most advanced group is the Road Show Band, which plays at eateries and at festivals such as the Cabarrus County Fair and the Auto Show at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The band, which usually features about six to eight players, occasionally performs at charitable events and has a relationship with the Kids First of the Carolinas organization, which helps kids and families in need.
Rock University made arrangements to perform at this year’s 13th annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks charity event through one of the organization’s volunteers, Michelle Hitchcock, whose 9-year-old daughter Jordan is a Rock University student. Jordan’s brother Anderson has autism, so as the Road Show Band prepared for the charity walk, it became a no-brainer for Jordan and Faison to play with them.
“Shawn is a really good player, drummer and singer,” said Road Show bass player and drummer Sam Ocheltree, a Cox Mill High junior. “He seems like he really has a drive and a passion for what he does. If he struggles with a part, we try to help him.”
With Faison and Jordan sharing lead vocals, the Road Show band rehearsed the recently mega-popular “Uptown Funk” song by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars and its equally funkadelic ’70s hit “Love Rollercoaster” by Ohio Players.
Faison took to the stage at the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event sporting a concert T-shirt for the ’70s rock band Styx. He kicked off his set by shouting to the small crowd, “Put your hands up,” and clapping.
Her son performing at an event to promote awareness for people with autism was an eye opener for Pamela Faison. She pledged to become more involved with Autism Speaks.
Unless it changes its name to Autism Sings.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.