I don’t understand why people are so upset about Beyonce’s alleged lip-synching of the national anthem earlier this week. It’s not like Beyonce lip-synched to a song that was actually made by Martha Brae. I would think after the whole Milli Vanilli fiasco years ago that the entertainment industry would know better than to use a pretty dolly as a front for some talented individual whose look might not be the standard of what marketers think would sell mp3’s or concert tickets.
Do you guys have any idea how difficult it is to sing live in public? Well I know, because I have done it. Yep, in addition to my writing aspirations, once upon a time I also dreamed of becoming a multi-platinum, recording artist and took steps towards my dream in 7th grade by joining my school’s glee club. [Disclosure: I can’t sing!]
I am sort of kind of from a musical family. My grandfather on my father’s side played the violin…or maybe it was a fiddle. As I grew older and started exploring other genre’s of music I always hoped it was a cello. In any case, that thing sat in an old trunk, in our good room, in our old house, back in Jamaica. My sister and I would sneak peeks at it every once in a while, because it gave us a window into our grandfather who was dead and buried long before any of us were ever born. My uncle rescued the instrument and my cousin Kurt tried his hand at playing it, but ended up switching to piano instead. He was actually great on the piano, which earned him a spot in a summer music program at Harvard University a few years ago. My grandmother on my Mom’s side was also a singer. When my uncle visited last summer, he told us all about my grandmother’s lounge singing career at one of the hotels in Jamaica.
I never had any interest in playing an instrument (well, there was the guitar but that’s for another post) I just wanted to sing. So there I was in junior high glee with my music teacher who obviously, from voice and looks, idolized Julie Andrews. She loved my false soprano (that high pitched voice which was not my actual singing voice), and when I landed a solo, I knew that I was on my way of becoming a star.
On recital night, we scanned the audience for familiar faces as we walked out single-file from backstage. Alas, I finally found two, my step-dad’s and my Mom’s both of whom were sitting in the middle rows of the auditorium. The audience gave a mediocre applause after we finished our first number. I guess the classical Christmas song was not going over well on an audience of people who listened exclusively to salsa, reggae and the emerging genre at that time known as hip hop. I still had no fear and maintained my poise even when I saw a few of the audience members glancing at their watches and others brazenly craning their necks to look at the clock that was on the back wall. My song was next. My classmates parted a path for me as I made my way to the microphones in the front. I looked out in the audience one last time at my parents as destiny awaited. I stood tall and gave a Mona Lisa smile as Julie Andrews knocked out the first bars of Good King Wenceslas on the piano. I had practiced this hundreds of times before and waited for my cue to unleash my talent to the world. As my cue came up I lifted the mic closer to my mouth and took my breath just before I started to help the flow of the first lyrics. Instead of words, a bubble jumped out of my lungs, came up through my wind pipe and wedged itself in the back of my throat. Frightened, I looked at my teacher who was playing the song. She looked up at me and nodded as if to say pick up where you left off. I thought if I coughed I could get it to dislodge. So I coughed, but nothing happened. Then I cleared my throat and nothing happened and repeated the cough, clear throat routine until suddenly the song, my moment, and my singing career was over. Long after the song stopped playing I stood there staring out beyond the hushed audience. I finally looked out at my music teacher and she nodded at me again this time to tell me to get back on the riser. Twenty six years would pass before I ever sung in public again.
As I look back, I wish I had the technology that is available to “serious musicians” today. If I was allowed to lip-sync over a pre-recorded track of my voice, there is no telling what my life could have been today. Beyonce probably knew that she would choke up on the mic during such a momentous occasion or that she would get a frog in the throat like I did and decided to go with the pre-recorded track. Even Aretha Franklin has come to her defense and said she would have probably done the same thing. Again, I don’t know why people are so mad. We are not sure about those “baby carrying” hips, but we know the girl can definitely sing…and act.