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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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God and music: Growing up Whalum

I met with the two (of three) Whalum brothers – Kortland and Kameron – in anticipation of their performance with their super fabulous, super talented uncle, Kirk, on June 2. The brothers will be featured guests in the Kafe Kirk series, which is now staged at the theater at Crosstown Concourse. 

This is not to suggest for even a millisecond that their talent pales in comparison. No, each is talented in his own right. 

Kortland is a vocalist with a focus on theatre and jazz artistry. He has toured with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and he has also starred in stage productions of “The Wiz” (Tin Man) and “AIDA” (Captain Radames). This spring he travelled to Milan to perform in the Tony winning Fats Waller musical “Aint Misbehavin.” 

You can usually find Kameron on international stages and any number of awards shows backing up Bruno Mars on trombone as part of the “Hooligans.” He made his television debut alongside Jessie J on “Saturday Night Live” in 2011 and has been touring for the past eight years. 

Kameron Whalum (Photo: Demarcus Bowser Photography)

So, it’s safe to say that their respective bonafides are legit. 

We sat down for an easy breezy chat in the theatre’s balcony, only to discover/rediscover some commonalities and intersections. I had met Kameron with my friend, Shawn, before. And, Kortland lived in Brooklyn, decamping our beloved borough just as I was leaving. We actually went to the same church in Brooklyn. (Hey Emmanuel Baptist!) 

With such a strong family history– dad, granddad and uncle, I had to ask: “No pressure right?” I mean, they have big shoes on all sides.

Kortland answers first: 

“There’s expectations. To whom much is given much is required. I didn’t ask for some of the responsibilities I’ve been given. But I take them on with pride. We wouldn’t be in the position we’re in now if it wasn’t for those before us.” 

Kameron says he doesn’t feel the pressure.

“The three of us hold each other up. My brothers and I never talked about it like that; we’ve never talked about pressure. Maybe because it’s been like this before we even got here. Our dad and uncles had to go through the same thing as far as being in the spotlight. I kinda grew up with it, so I don’t look at it like that.”

Kortland Whalum (Photo: Demarcus Bowser Photography)

Kortland adds this: “We’re creating our own lane too. We’re taking off from where we’ve been dropped off and doing our own thing. Everyone has their niche.”

One thing that is striking about all of the Whalums that I’ve spoken to (first Kirk, now Kortland and Kameron) is humbleness and humility. They’re “just folks.” Of all the people who act real brand new while standing on hollow ground, here they are on very solid ground, just chillin’ and doing life. No airs, no foolery, no pretense. I can dig it.

We shifted gears a little to talk about Memphis. They both found their way home and are happily anchored here for the foreseeable future. I asked why they chose to come home and stay home. 

“I love the fact that there’s so much untouched space here,” Kameron answers. “We haven’t reached our full potential. And I want to help figure it out. (Then there’s) family, church. I’ll be fine as long as I got those two.” 

Kortland echoes faith and family. It really is everything y’all. Those are the two pillars that hold you up in life!

About Memphis, Kortland says, “It’s a diamond in the rough. It’s the perfect opportunity to bloom where you’re planted. Being in New York for six years…it’s a different ball game. It tore me down and built me right up. …I came home a stronger person.” 

He’s been home for three years now and hasn’t looked back. The opportunities kept coming. First Hattiloo called, then Stax, “CATS” in the fall and on and on. 

He says simply, “Your gift will make room for you.” Now, thassa a word for somebody.

Kameron’s dream gig is fronting a big band on vocals, so we’re gonna speak it into existence for him (and add a lil shando sauce to it)!

You will find both Kortland and Kameron at Stax Music Academy training students in vocals and rhythm section respectively. Kameron will also teach a master class over the summer and serves as the Stax artist-in-residence. 

At Sunday’s show, expect to hear some Kirk Whalum classics, message music and some soul/neo-soul classics from Kortland. Kameron will sing and play. He notes that most people likely don’t know he sings (I did not). He’s looking forward to flexing his vocals, which will include a song he wrote with Kirk. 

Kameron describes their family affair as “a blending of their styles, personal artistry and (an opportunity to) perform on our terms.” Kortland describes the show as a “comfortable experience” like coming into their home. And the stage is indeed home for all three.  

So, step into their living room. Behold the legacy. Enjoy the music. Take in the fabness – all three are easy on the eyes; so there’s that!

As the old folks say, they done growed up nice.

(To purchase tickets to Sunday’s show, visit https://bit.ly/2JNOuqW.)

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