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Arts: Performers take the stage at Pawleys festival

Peabo Bryson | Zuill Bailey | The Company Men | Barett Baber

Shana Tucker: The vocalist and the cello

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

“Pawleys Island is a new place for me,” said Shana Tucker. “I had to look it up. More than anything I love going someplace new, being able to get on a plane and travel somewhere to share my music.”

She labels her musical genre as “ChamberSoul,” influenced by jazz, classical, acoustic pop, soul and folk sounds. She began exploring her talent as a toddler growing up on Long Island, N.Y., taking piano lessons from her great-grandmother. She discovered the violin in fourth-grade; the cello in junior high. She said her career took off while attending Howard University, where she was part of a singing piano trio. She majored in arts administration. After graduation, she returned to New York and completed her cello studies at the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music.

While cello is her instrument of choice, she said she considers herself “a vocalist who plays cello.”

It was while living in North Carolina’s Research Triangle and raising her son that Tucker produced her first CD “Shine” with fundraising support from local fans. Her vocal style has been likened to Cleo Laine or Diana Krall.

In 2012, as a result of “Shine,” a Cirque de Soleil recruiter invited her to Las Vegas to perform as cellist and mezzo-soprano in their production “KÀ” at the MGM Grand Hotel.

Tucker, 42, now lives in Las Vegas where she performs in 10 Cirque shows a week. But it is her traveling main stage shows, she said, which rejuvenate her talent. Her repertoire is 90 percent original.

Topping her list of career highlights? “Being the opener for Norah Jones, and also The Indigo Girls,” she said.

Four musicians will accompany Tucker at her festival performance. “I can’t wait. I love bringing music to people of all ages, live music affects everyone in such a positive way.”

Shana Tucker | Sept. 30, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $45 / $35 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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Peabo Bryson: ‘The Pavarotti of soul singers’

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Peabo Bryson can sing every musical genre. “I have a distinctive voice, like no one else,” Bryson said from his home in Atlanta.

His vocal versatility, he said, has worked to his advantage. He has crooned solo and in duets with such artists as Natalie Cole and Roberta Flack. He sings R&B, pop, soul, ballads and opera. Bryson has the distinction of being the first artist in music history to have separate records topping four different charts. He’ll showcase his crossover abilities when he, along with his band and backup singers, appear at the Pawleys Island Music Festival on Oct. 1.

Born in Greenville, Bryson said he cherishes the opportunity to come home to South Carolina. His love for music stemmed from his mother, who often took the family to concerts by artists such as Sam Cooke, Little Richard and Billie Holiday.

He learned his values growing up on his grandfather’s farm in Mauldin, he said. “I’m the oldest male in the family, so I was taught to work and work hard. My family taught me good judgment and spirituality. And I learned when to say ‘no.’ ”

He also knows when to say yes. He took a leap in 1991 with the title theme for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” with Celine Dion. It was a pop hit, an Ocsar-winner and a Grammy-winner. “I never met Celine until we were in the recording studio. Now we’re good friends,” he said.

The next year he recorded “A Whole New World,” the title theme for Disney’s “Aladdin,” with Regina Belle. It was another Oscar and Grammy success.

Born Robert Peapo Bryson, he made his professional debut at age 14 singing backup for Al Freeman and the Upsetters, a Greenville group. It was Freeman’s difficulty in pronouncing the French-West Indian name Peapo that led Bryson to change its spelling to Peabo.

Bryson left South Carolina in 1968 to tour with another local band, Moses Dillard and the Tex-Town Display. Bryson’s big break came during a recording session at Atlanta’s Bang Records when the label’s general manager, unimpressed with Dillard’s band, noticed Bryson and signed him to a contract as a writer, producer and arranger working with local bands. In 1976, he launched his own recording career with “Underground Music” on the Bang label. His first album, “Peabo,” followed. A regional success, Bryson signed with Capitol Records and his career blossomed.

In addition to singing and writing music, Bryson has appeared in theater and operatic productions, most notably the tenor role of Sportin’ Life in the Michigan Opera Theater production of “Porgy and Bess,” the lead in the touring production of “Raisin” (based on “Raisin in the Sun”) and in the title role in a touring production of “The Wiz.”

Today Bryson credits his fifth grade teacher for teaching him how to read music and Moses Dillard for teaching him everything else.

Cicely Tyson was another mentor, he said. “Cicely would watch me on stage and critique me. She would say, ‘You got to give the audience what they want. They want you to tell them how to feel.’ ”

Bryson, called the “Pavarotti of soul singers” by the New York Times, has survived and prospered despite the passage of time and changes in popular musical. He’s performed at the White House three times, traveled the world (southern France is a favorite destination), made more than 20 albums and includes Elton John among his many fans. His R&B successes include “Feel the Fire” and “I’m So Into You,” which spent two weeks as the nation’s number one hit. The 1991 single “Can You Stop the Rain” won Bryson a Grammy nomination for best R&B vocal performance by a male, as did “Lost in the Night” in 1992.

Throughout his career, Bryson said his first priority is being “true to myself. I’m at a good place now.”

Now 65 and a grandfather, Bryson has no plans to retire. “I’m singing in the same key as I did in 1977,” he said. “Why would I retire?”

Peabo Bryson | Oct. 1, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $85 / $45 / $30. pawleysmusic.com

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Zuill Bailey: Cello speaks ‘like a wise storyteller’

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Cellist Zuill Bailey wished for a life filled with classical music and international travel.

“I always wanted to travel, try new foods, share music, meet new people. Be careful what you wish for,” Bailey warned. “I’m on the road 280 days a year.”

He does spend a few weeks in one place each summer in Alaska where he is artistic director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival and conductor of a cello seminar. In the winter he spends some time in El Paso, where he is teaches at the University of Texas. Otherwise he’s never more than two days in one place.

After 20 years, he hasn’t lost his passion, however. Bailey, 44, said he feels as fresh and as strong as ever. “You start off with a check list, you dream of playing in Carnegie Hall, with major orchestras, seeing the world, to make recordings. I’ve done my check list and I still love it. I’ve had an amazing journey.”

Bailey received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the Juilliard School. He’s been a soloist with symphony orchestras around the world and collaborated with conductors such as Itzhak Perlman, Alan Gilbert and Andrew Litton. He’s performed with such musical luminaries as Leon Fleisher, Jaime Laredo and Lynn Harrell. Bailey’s 2010 recording of the Bach Cello Suites debuted at No. 1 on the Classical Billboard charts. His 2014 recording of Britten’s Cello Symphony and Cello Sonata also reached No. 1.

Bailey’s cello is a “rosette” made by Matteo Gofriller in Venice in 1693. The name comes from a carved design under the fingerboard. The cello was once owned by Mischa Schneider who played for 38 years with the Budapest String Quartet, the ensemble that brought chamber music to prominence in the U.S. in the mid 20th century. The cello chose him, Bailey said.

“It never leaves my side,” he said. “It is remarkable, with such a distinct sound. When I play it’s sound is like a wise storyteller giving a history lesson. I sit wrapped around it and the sound goes straight to my heart.”

Raised in Alexandria, Va., in a family of musicians, Bailey debuted at age 12. “I have music running through my veins all day long. It’s a gift and a curse, but I can’t imagine it any other way,” he said.

His concert performances include audience interaction. “I share a lot of insight on the music and why I spent time to prepare it. I try to make it personal. Classical music is all about expression. I particularly seek out the people who don’t know about classical music. To share its history. They may not realize, but if they listen they hear the cello every day in life. It’s all around us from radio, videos, movies, commercials, everywhere. I try to get them familiar with the cello.

“Cellists are extremely lucky to be able to play the masterpieces of the great composers, their best works. Cello is the most like a human voice in an instrument. It tells a story. Composers wrote for the cello to channel their own life story through the music.”

His program for the festival, with piano accompaniment, will be Russian-inspired featuring works by Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. “It should be quite overwhelming,” he said.

Zuill Bailey | Oct. 6, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $45 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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The Company Men: Giving up the day job for a startup

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

The Company Men, a four-man vocal group, was conjured up in a hot tub.

“The four of us had just finished performing together in a Frankie Valli Four Seasons tribute at the Red Rock Casino outside of Vegas,” said Stuart Ambrose, a member of the Company Men, from his home in Los Angeles. “We were literally in a hot tub and were talking about our hopes and dreams. The four of us all decided we could all do something on our own. At that moment we came up with the name and basic concept.”

Up until then, the gents, in their mid 30s to mid 40s, had “real” jobs to support themselves and their families. They quit those 9 to 5 jobs to form the group, thus their name.

Their first gig was in 2012. “Now we perform largely full time, about 300 performances thus far across the country and internationally,” Ambrose said. “We are currently doing a series of festival tours.”

Their concept: To interweave today’s Top 40 hits with re-imagined classics of the last six decades.

All of the men, “we’re not a boy band,” have extensive performing arts backgrounds that include television, Broadway and national touring theater companies.

“People will hear the songs they love from the 1950s up until the music they hear on the radio today. We put the old and new together in a new way,” Ambrose said. “For example, we blend Ben King’s ‘Stand by Me’ together with U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ the music of Adele with Michael Jackson, and Nick Jonas with Tom Petty.”

Their “Night of Hits” also blends songs by Billy Joel, Prince, Katy Perry, The Four Tops, Bruno Mars and others. Ambrose, Brian Purcell, Terron Brooks and Shawn Perucca perform more than 50 songs in their 90-minute program, with full choreography and a four-piece band. They always include a seven-song segment which they call “The Collection” progressing from Motown to U2 to Sam Smith.

“We appeal to all demographics from daughter to mother to grandmother. They all find songs they love,” Ambrose said.

They’ve opened for Kool & The Gang, Kolby Koloff, and Chaka Khan, a highlight Ambrose said. His dream, he said, would be to have a sit-down stint in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where they could stay awhile.

“As a group, we’re here for the marathon, not a sprint, and look forward to getting out more and more into the public space,” he said.

The Company Men | Oct. 7, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $45 / $35 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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Barrett Baber: ‘The Voice’ turns singer into a star

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Since placing third on NBC’s “The Voice” last fall, Barrett Baber is drawing crowds. He’s touring the country and can’t believe his dream is becoming a reality.

Blake Shelton of “The Voice” described Baber’s fresh soulful country sounds “like no one else on country radio. He can be a superstar in country music.”

But Baber doesn’t seek fame, he said from his home in Fayetteville, Ark. He seeks to make beautiful music in support of his family, to be a good dad to his two toddlers and to give them the best life he can. He takes his job very seriously. “I don’t have a choice. Music is built into my life, my soul,” he said.

Growing up in Marion, Ark., Baber, 36, was surrounded by music. His father was a Baptist preacher. Baber sang in the church choir and was a natural at playing guitar, singing and writing music. He often visited Memphis, only a few miles from his home, listening to blues, country and rock performers.

To put himself through Ouachita Baptist University, he supported himself by singing in local dives around town. He was known as “that guy with the guitar.” It was during college in 1999, while traveling with the choir, he survived American Airlines Flight 1420, which crashed upon landing at Little Rock National Airport. Eleven people died. The tragedy is etched in Baber’s memory.

After college, pursuing a career in music, he auditioned for “American Idol” and was in the top 40 finalists until he was cut. At 22, he wasn’t ready for Idol. “I hadn’t developed. There’s no substitute for experience, those who make it put in years and years of work,” he said.

After years of having some success at writing songs and singing and recording for fun on the side, he auditioned for “The Voice.”

“‘The Voice’ changed my whole life,” Baber said. “It was a catalyst and allowed me to revisit the idea that maybe music could become my career.” He left his job as a high school teacher and coach and took to the country road.

Career highlights include winning the national CBS Grammy Gig of a Lifetime award in 2014 and touring with Rascal Flatts. “And I love performing in arenas and before massive crowds. Going out on stage and being well received is really a humbling thing for me,” Baber said.

His latest single is “Kiss Me Hello.” His most requested song is Conway Twitty’s “I’d Love to Lay You Down.”

Almost 80 percent of Baber’s performance on stage features songs he’s composed. He’s stunned to hear audiences sing some of the songs he’s written. “They know my original songs word for word,” he said.

Barrett Baber | Oct. 8, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. $75 / $35 / $25. pawleysmusic.com

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