Singer, songwriter and actor Phillip Brandon and I enjoyed a lovely trip down HBCU Memory Lane in this interview.
Brandon will be in St. Paul when the Trans-Siberian Orchestra presents “The Ghost of Christmas Eve” at the Xcel Energy Center Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Brandon has been the orchestra’s narrator since 2010.
Brandon and I reminisced about historically black colleges and universities when I told the Morehouse College man that my undergraduate school was Bennett College. “Oh, wow, that is awesome!” he said. “When you said ‘Bennett’ my ears perked up because I actually sang at Bennett while I was at Morehouse. You know, that’s our official sister school. I was part of the Glee Club, the quartet.”
The Morehouse Glee Club and its quartet are two clues that Brandon is an exceptional singer. Hear for yourself with “Come on,” (bit.ly/2kHpin1) — a release from his debut smooth jazz CD “The Story Begins.” He was also part of the first national tour of “The Color Purple,” and BeBe Winans’ autobiographical play “Born For This.” His pipes are probably a gift from mom, Brenda Davis, aka Ms B, a former backup singer with Ray Charles’ Raelettes.
Asked about the name Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Brandon said, “I really don’t know the exact history. The one thing I do know is that it comes up as a conversation topic.” He then talked enthusiastically about the production: “You have all these lights and lasers and fire and then it comes down to nothing but a piano, a narrator and a spotlight.”
I remembered why I have not seen Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Those lights would trigger my vertigo! “Oh, yeah,” laughed Brandon, “That would be a little bit too much.”
Q: How do you become the narrator for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
A: I think YouTube. They saw a clip of me doing the “Lion King” over in Hong Kong. They contacted me and the rest in history.
Q: Would you rather take Darius Rucker or Lionel Richie to lunch?
A: It would certainly be Lionel Richie because if you look at his catalog it is ridiculous and I would love to pick his brain and say, “Brother, where did you get all this inspiration?” He kept himself relevant. Everybody knows Lionel Richie.
Q: Who are your favorite singers?
A: Gregory Porter is at the top of that list. Anyone from the ’70s and ’80s funk and soul era. I love Earth, Wind & Fire, the Whispers. Anytime they come near I have to go check them. I love that old-school showmanship. It’s something that has always stuck out to me and I try to listen to, to this day.
Q: It’s interesting how well the music of Earth, Wind & Fire has aged. It remains infectious. I saw them at a PACER Center gala a few years ago and lots of people who were not born when that music was popular were into it.
A: Yeah. Absolutely. That is one of the reasons they always stuck out to me is because they weren’t trying to create a particular style or genre. They were creating what felt good to them. Because of that, it was timeless. You can name three Earth, Wind & Fire tunes that everybody at any party you go to will, if not know the words, hum along to the chorus.
Q: What other type gigs do you perform?
A: I have my band Soulful Cabaret. We [perform] mostly around L.A. where I’m from but we’ve also done small tours at performing arts centers, jazz clubs.
Q: Have you written that song yet that’s going to be relevant in 30 years?
A: That’s the hope with the new project we just released last month, “The Story Begins.” The lead single “Come on” has been getting a lot of really cool radio play, from the smooth jazz side. I hope it is as timeless as those who have inspired me. [The album is] a journey of hope navigated in love. I am by nature a storyteller. With the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I just love hearing how someone got from Point A to Point B. If we don’t enjoy the journey, the end result can be a bit anti-climactic.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.