Luther Vandross is without a doubt one of the most successful and celebrated singers in the history of recorded music. The world was blessed with his soulful voice on original songs like “Never Too Much” and “Power of Love/Love Power” and classic covers like “If This World Were Mine” and “A House Is Not A Home.” The 8-time Grammy Award winner also inspired countless crooners. One of those Vandross disciples is Abraham McDonald.
McDonald’s appreciation for his musical hero will be on full display at the upcoming Remembering Luther! The Night I Fell In Love benefit concert. The winner of The Oprah Winfrey Show‘s Karaoke Challenge (2010) will serenade the crowd with some of Luther’s most memorable tunes.
The Young and the Restless’ Redaric Williams and Lamon Archey will serve as hosts for the evening. Special appearances by Kenny Lattimore, Shanice, Natalie Cole, Vivica A. Fox, and many more are scheduled as well. Proceeds from the star-studded event will go to fund McDonald’s Dreamland Foundation nonprofit.
DZI: The Voice caught up with Abraham McDonald to discuss his Remembering Luther! show, his appearance on a classic Michael Jackson recording, his turn to acting, and more.
Yohance Kyles: When did you first discover your voice as an artist?
Abraham McDonald: I guess I started singing around 9 or 10, but I didn’t know “I could sing”. I definitely didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My sister decides she’s putting me in a talent show. I said, “No, I’m cool. I don’t want to do it,” but my mom said you’re doing it. I’m grateful that they made me do it, because that’s when I found my voice. It was in that audition, on that stage, in a cold warehouse. For some reason when I started singing on that stage, all of sudden, I could see so much more. I could see the crowd. So for me that was the place where I first realized that there’s something different that happens to me when I sing.
YK: Do you remember what song you performed?
AD: I sang “Home” by Stephanie Mills.
YK: Is it true you sang background for Michael Jackson at one point?
AD: Luenell Campbell, she’s an actress and comedian in a lot of movies, I was in her home, and we were doing an interview on her, getting ready for Remembering Luther. It turns out Michael Jackson is her favorite artist. She was like, “Hey, I love you, but if it turns out Michael Jackson shows up baby I got to go.” She said especially the “Live In Bucharest Concert,” and I told her I actually got to sing background for that concert. She lost her cool, “You were live in Bucharest!?” No, I was not in Bucharest, but I did get the opportunity to do the live background recording session for that. That was amazing. To be in the room with some of the top singers in the game… I was 16, and you have all these amazing singers.
I got that opportunity because I worked with the legend Andraé Crouch. He is the only living legend in the hymnal and the Guinness Book of World Records for most recorded Gospel song ever. So, I got my training ground with them. They did a lot of Michael’s stuff, and Madonna, Dolly Parton. Working with them gave me an entrance to a lot of opportunities. It also taught me a lot about professionalism, execution, and baby you better bring it if they call you [laughs].
YK: Why did you decide to cover Luther Vandross classics for your benefit concert?
AD: As a kid I always got the comparison, “you remind me of Luther,” but at 14 you’re like, “Who the hell is that? And why do I remind you of this old man?” I was 14. I didn’t know. The show is based on this story. One night my mom surprised me with tickets for my birthday to see Luther Vandross. I would say more than excitement, there was intrigue, because I kept getting this comparison at 14. What does that mean? I found out.
We were above the nose bleed sections. So far up it was crazy, but that music started and I will never forget how he opened with “Stop To Love.” That was my introduction to Bob Mackie. The girls came out in these cat suits. Lord have mercy. Their capes were gorgeous and the beading was incredible. Mind you, I was at the top, but I worked my way down to the middle. I ain’t never been a small boy. At 14, I was 6’2, so here I am leaning on this poor little white lady, because I didn’t have a ticket to be down there. But she let me. It was something that drew me to that stage. I had to get there. I was amazed. This is the guy they’re comparing me to. I’m nowhere near this. I can work to try.
It wasn’t until July 2005 when Luther passed, and my dear friend Sheryl Lee Ralph was getting married. Luther was supposed to sing in the wedding. This lady that was singing for the wedding asked Sheryl to come to the rehearsal. She invited me to the rehearsal, and asked me to sing “A House Is Not Home.” Sheryl asked me to sing in her wedding as she walked down the aisle.
I was in rehearsal for the wedding, and I go up and I begin singing. It was really interesting. I wouldn’t say the room stood still, but something happened in that room. I’m on my way out of the church and Ms. Patti Labelle is on her way out. She stopped me, and said, “You remind me of my baby. You remind me of Luther.” Mind you, I went to the concert at 14. I sang at the wedding at 27, 28. That was for me something that brought it full circle. It started weighing on my heart, my mind.
YK: What inspired you to start your Dreamland Foundation?
AD: I worked with several non-profits throughout the years. In 1997 is when I started my philanthropic journey working with kids in schools. In 2008 is when I legitimized all the work I’d been doing. Before that everything I was doing, I was doing just to do it. I was helping kids get into college, helping with rent. Somebody said you should really think about creating a non-profit. I was like I don’t want to do all that. I’m just trying to help some folks out. It’s all just been a part of my dream.
That’s when I got that vision about the Dreamland Foundation. It’s been amazing. I have some incredible kids we work with. I have four stellar students right now. Victor Ekpo, he’s an incredible 19-year-old violinist. He’s been playing for seven years. He just placed as a silver medalist, competing against kids all over the country, in the NAACP Act-So Competition.
YK: Will there be other guest performers at your event?
AD: Remembering Luther: The Night I Fell In Love is an homage to the gentleman who I feel paved the wave for a vocalist like myself. I’m not about to get out there and twerk. That ain’t going to happen, but I will sing you good old crooning melody like I did for Michelle Obama.
I had to go to some of my friends who I knew loved him just as much, so Kenny Lattimore is joining my on stage that night. He’s doing the iconic “There’s Nothing Better Than Love” with me which the late Gregory Hines and Luther Vandross did together. Then Karen Briggs who is an international violin soloist is joining me on “A House Is Not A Home.” Then you have cameos from Niecy Nash, Luenell, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Vivica Fox. I’m serenading LisaRaye on stage. It’s going to be one of those “Alright, now!” kind of shows.
YK: You also recently worked with Kenny Lattimore on a play?
AD: Yeah, Kenny and I did Don B. Welch’s Take It To The Lord, Or Else back in December. He was my arch nemesis in the play. It was really, really cool. That was my first big acting role.
YK: Do you have plans to do more acting?
AD: Yes, sir! I start real soon. My show Remembering Luther is on January 25th. I start my first table reading for E.D. Blues on the 27th. That play was written by Butch Dewberry. He actually seen me do a play, and I’m just going to say it, the brother hunted me down like I owed him some money. He was adamant about getting to me, and once I read the script and we did a couple of reads with some of the other characters, I was like this is going to stretch me. It’s funny. This is a play I think men in particular will think is a real subject. In the play, I play a gentleman named Elwood who’s 49, divorced, and dealing with some depression.
YK: Your single “Dreams Come True” with Rebecca Holden has become a really big wedding song.
AD: It’s crazy. It’s one of those projects that in truth I was not sure if I should do this. Something said boy, you better do it. I chose to do it, and now the video on YouTube just released on January second is already at over 500,000 views. In addition to that, we just hit the Billboard charts at number 41. Rudy Pérez was Billboard Magazine’s “Producer of the Decade” so to have that dude produce the record was like “yeah, go ahead and sing on that.”
YK: Who are you five favorite vocalists of all time?
AD: Luther Vandross. Celine Dion. Whitney Houston, of course. Jennifer Holiday. I think God put something in her throat and said, “I’m going to sit right here.” Donnie McClurkin.
YK: Besides your own work, what were the last five songs you listened to?
AD: “The Impossible Dream” from Luther Vandross. This song called “For Good” from Wicked that Kristin Chenoweth sang. I don’t know if you know who Kristin Chenoweth is, but I’m absolutely in love with her. A lot of people know her from Oprah’s last show when they did this parade of men from Morehouse that Oprah championed. Kristin Chenoweth actually sang the song “For Good” as that happened. Next, a song called “Shifting the Atmosphere” (Jason Nelson). If you put that record on everything stops for me. Then there’s a song by Kierra Sheard called “Amazing God.”
YK: What’s next for Abraham McDonald?
AD: We have a couple of pilots being shopped right now with me. I partnered with a company called Make It Happen Productions, and they were able to capture the essence of me, the whole me. I think what makes me different from a lot of singers is that most singers are just worried about the song. My concern is the people. I don’t think there’s any mistaking the anointing God has placed on my vocal chords. I don’t think it’s by chance. I don’t think it’s by mistake. I think it’s by call. So for me, I really consider the songs I choose to sing.
When I was signed to Def Jam, they brought me a bunch of amazing records from some amazing producers and writers. The truth is when we found the song “Miracle” it connected. I understood it, and I knew who I was singing to. I knew that song had a more broad span than just about the intamcy of a relationship between a man and a women. The song had ability to touch hearts, and it was a healing piece as well. I saw that from the e-mails, text messages, tweets, and YouTube notes. This one person said that her son had been declared mute, and after watching me on television, for the first time she heard him make a sound. That is why I do what I do. I’m looking for more of those moments.
Dreamland Foundation Presents Remembering Luther! The Night I Fell In Love will take place January 25th at Los Angeles’ Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
For more info about Remembering Luther! click it
For more info about Abraham McDonald click it
To connect with Abraham follow him Twitter @AbrahamMcDonald
Check out Remembering Luther! The Night I Fell In Love promo video and the music video for “Miracle”: