By Fletcher Word
The Truth Editor
“When I’m on stage, I bring everybody that has ever helped me,” said baritone Sidney Outlaw during a conversation with The Truth recently. On February 16 and 18, Outlaw will be bringing everybody who had ever helped him onstage at The Valentine when he sings the role of Mercutio in Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet.
Outlaw has been praised as a “terrific singer … with a deep, rich timbre,” by the New York Times and as an “opera powerhouse … with a weighty and forthright sound” by the San Francisco Chronicle. For such reviews, he has a lot of people to thank for helping him, as he is the first to acknowledge.
And from the very beginning. “I grew up in a musical family,” he said of his childhood in Brevard, NC, which is about 35 miles southwest of Ashville. From the moment of his birth, he said only half-jokingly, music was an important part of his life. Church music, of course; learning an instrument – the French horn – as a youngster; studying classical music in the 10th and 11th grades with Mrs. Shumate and a field trip down to Bob Jones University to see his first opera, Aida, while in high school.
Music, always music. And singing, always singing, one type of music or another.
Then came college at the University of North Carolina Greensboro where he had the opportunity to study with Levone Tobin Scott, a mentor then and to this day.
“That’s when the fun started,” he said. “She took me under her wing and mentored me … and even now! She recognized something in me that needed to be cultivated.”
Scott still is a huge influence in Outlaw’s life and on his career, as are so many who have worked with him over the years.
His four years at UNC Greensboro were followed by three years at The Juilliard School and study with luminaries such as Marilyn Horne, a celebrated mezzo soprano, and Warren Jones, pianist, conductor and vocal coach.
“If it wasn’t for him and Ms. Horne, I wouldn’t be here,” said Outlaw paying tribute, as always, to those who have guided him along this path of vocal accomplishment. “I have roots under my tree.”
After earning his master’s degree at Juilliard, the fun really began … or increased for the baritone. Outlaw has performed all over the country – New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Florida, to name a few – and all over the world – from England to Germany to Africa and Asia.
But Outlaw is more than a singer, he’s also a teacher and an ambassador for his art. Outlaw is a teacher at the Manhattan School of Music – work that he feels fortunate to be able to blend in with his performance duties. “It’s my calling, not a job,” he said of his Manhattan School of Music endeavors. What he learns in rehearsal, on stage and with his mentors, “I take it back and teach to my students.”
And as if the performing and teaching have not been enough to fill up his waking hours, Outlaw is also an ambassador. He started working with the U.S. State Department during President Barack Obama’s administration as a cultural arts ambassador for the ARTS Envoy program. In that program he has performed and continues to perform all over the world.
For now, Outlaw is excited to be in Toledo, singing a role he relishes, in an opera he loves, with “an amazing cast.” He has worked on numerous occasions with other members of the cast – tenor Zach Borichevsky as Romeo, coloratura soprano Kathryn Lewek as Juliet, mezzo-soprano Imara Miles as Gertrude, for example – and considers this production to be somewhat like a reunion.
After Toledo, the singer is taking a trip to Colorado to sing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and releasing a new album on March 15, Zwei Gesange Op. 91, (“I want to take classical music and modernize it visually”) all of which “allows me to fulfill a dream … I still have hopes and dreams.”
And in between performing, he will be back to the Manhattan School of Music to teach and inspire others as he has been inspired by so many.
“My cup runneth over because it is full,” he said of his busy life and his desire to do as much as he can to bring the joy he has experienced through music to as many others as he can.
“I want to leave the industry better than I found it.”