By Kharisma McIlwaine
Cleveland, Ohio native and songbird Laurin Talese has been immersed in the music world from a young age. She was classically trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and after graduating made her way to Philadelphia to study classical and jazz voice at The University of the Arts, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in vocal performance. After performing on stages all over the world, Talese returns to the Kimmel Cultural Campus for a one night only solo performance. Talese spoke with The SUN about her excitement about her upcoming performances and what’s next for her music.
Talese’s love for music began organically. She comes from a family of singers, where her gifts were discovered during dining room jam sessions with her father and uncles.
“I always tell this story and laugh, but I have one uncle who for the life of him could not hear the note on pitch,” she recalled. “My dad would get mad, exclaiming ‘like dude, it’s this note.’ So, I would always be humming it in the corner because I could hear what the note was and I was like seven years old at this time.One day my dad heard me. My mom had already heard me when I was like four. She said she was in the car and I was humming along to music on the radio, so she had an inkling, but my dad didn’t know how much I wanted to do it until he heard me humming along with them. From that point on, he and my mom put me in all kinds of troupes.”
One of those troupes was called “The Singing Angels,” who Talese performed with at just seven or eight years old. They performed at local nursing homes and hospitals in an attempt to spread joy.
“What’s funny is that we were singing songs that are actually jazz standards, but we were singing them in that kiddie bop way of the 90’s; she said. “I think about the fact that I’ve known a lot of the songs that I sing now my whole life, even though I didn’t have context for what they were.”
Talese went on to audition for the Cleveland School of the Arts and got in when she was in the 5th grade. Her training at the school and a gift that she received from her teacher sparked Talese’s love for jazz.
“My good friend to this day and mentor Dr. William Woods saw something in me, believed in me, had me audition and I got in,” she said. “He gave me this compilation disk with Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone. When I popped it in I said, ‘this is my voice — this is where I belong.’”
The next stop on Talese’s journey was the University of The Arts. It was there that her love affair with Philadelphia began.
“I moved to Philly when I was 17 going on 18,” she said. “I got here in the early 2000’s. I studied classical voice, and some jazz in school. I would go down the street with my friends that I made in school like Adam Blackstone, Ben O’Neil and all of these amazing artists that are doing great work now. We would go to Zanzibar Blue on Broad Street. So many amazing artists came through there. Even though we got paid crumbs, it was nice to have somewhere to try out what you wanted to do, to practice songs and practice performing in relation to the audience. I was really able to be schooled there and at the 5Spot.”
“I didn’t sing every week, but I was able to just glean from being in that room,” Talese said. “I feel like Philly definitely reared me as it pertained to being an adult, professional performing artist. I don’t think anywhere else in the world compares to what Philly has to offer.”
The schooling that Talese received at those legendary venues led to her being able to share the stage with some of the most brilliant and accomplished artists in the business.
Some of those artists included Amir “Questlove” Thompson, Blackthought, James Poyser, and Bilal. Talese went on to tour with both Vivian Green and Bilal, among many others.
“All of the people that I love having around me now were there and just creating in the moment,” she said. “I started singing background for different artists while I was still in school. I had to be a great steward of my time in order to complete my course work and still be able to go on tours. I had a unique opportunity and was really fortunate in that way because I didn’t know what touring looked like. Performing and traveling with Bilal was amazing. I was literally in another sort of university every day, just listening to him and how he changed his voice with every song every night. So many firsts on those tours and it allowed me to make a conscious decision about what I wanted to do and if music was it full time.”
Talese continued her career as a solo artist performing at internationally renowned venues such as Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 2018, she was recognized for her incredible gift, winning the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.
“I really didn’t go into it, [thinking] ‘like I got this’ — every last finalist was phenomenal,” she said. “It just came down to whatever the judges and audience saw. I’m grateful that they saw me. After auditioning for “American Idol” and “The Voice,” I was disenchanted with the whole process of competition. But to enter into one and sing the songs that mattered to me — to say ‘I’m going to sing jazz standards — I’m going to venerate my fairy godmother. Sarah Vaughan’… [just] to know that was enough was reaffirming and validating to me as an artist.”
In addition to the stages that welcome Talese’s talents all over the world, she found a second home at the Kimmel Cultural Campus.
“Recently since 2021, I have been performing there with The Philadelphia Orchestra… that’s been insane! To be able to work with Yannick [Nézet-Séguin] and The Philadelphia Orchestra and Matias [Tarnopolsky], who is president [and CEO] of the Kimmel and the orchestra has been phenomenal, and every staff member has been amazing,” she said. “I’ve felt so fulfilled, singing with the orchestra and being able to use more of my classical training — especially with the number one orchestra in the world!”
Talese has upcoming performances at The Kennedy Center and The Kimmel Cultural Campus respectively, where she will debut songs from her album, “Gorgeous Chaos.”
“To be going back to perform my music at The Kennedy Center for a night where people are coming out to hear me is just otherworldly… I’m so excited, “she said. Then on the 19th, I’ll be at The Kimmel, performing some of my songs from “Gorgeous Chaos” and from my upcoming project, which is commissioned by Chamber Music America.”
As vice president of the Recording Academy’s Philadelphia chapter, Talese continues to use her musical gifts to educate and inspire. Fans of Talese’s work are sure to be thrilled with her upcoming album, “Museum of Living Stories,” set to be released at the end of this year. In the interim, be sure to follow and support Talese’s journey on Instagram @LaurinTalese. Tickets for Talese’s February 18 show at The Kennedy Center are available at: www.linktr.ee/laurintalese.
Talese will perform at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Perelman Theater on February 19. Tickets are available at: www.kimmelculturalcampus.org.
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