"...his kind of singing is not easy; it requires physical effort, training, technique—the inculcation of all the lessons his beloved music teacher, Prof. Joyce Sweeney of West Los Angeles College, so painstakingly taught him..."
Part 2 of "Real/Raw" Interview
By Nuala Lincke-Ivic
Brandon Ford: A Voice That Soars and Glides
One is not supposed to be gushy in an interview; it’s bad form, or something like that. I don’t care. I’m going to be gushy here, and not just about Brandon Ford, the subject of this interview, but also about Prof. Joyce Sweeney, his music teacher at West Los Angeles College, and Lettrice Lawrence, Brandon's good friend and mentor. All three of these singers-who-are-also-musicians deserve the accolade of someone being sincerely gushy about their talent: They’re that good, and that generous as artists. So…here I go: gushiness!
Let me begin by telling you that…if Brandon Ford’s voice had a color, it would be golden. Brandon is what I—a Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Stevie Wonder fan—think of as a “golden singer”: He has one of those smooth, very smooth, voices that soar and glide—but do not obscure the meaning of the words he sings. He’s not a garage band singer, or a dime-a-dozen rock star who yowls and squeals on stage, makes breathy, guttural noises, that while usually entertaining, do not make up for what is lacking in natural talent. Brandon has a voice. He can sing. But watching Brandon sing recently reminds me of the fact that his kind of singing is not easy; it requires physical effort, training, technique—the inculcation of all the lessons his beloved music teacher, Prof. Joyce Sweeney of West Los Angeles College, so painstakingly taught him; nature’s gift of a beautiful singing voice is not enough to build a voice like Brandon’s. Someone who wants to sing like Brandon has to know how to maintain a note, to let one breath segue seamlessly into the next, to produce that kind of organic human music that soars and glides: that is golden.
Hm…. Thinking of Brandon’s voice, here’s the image—the memory—that comes to mind: a recent trip to a pricey fabric store, where I watch a sales clerk delicately open a bolt of silk in a specially made bag, and then expertly unfurl it onto a cutting table without allowing it to crease one tiny bit. Brandon’s voice: a bolt of rippling silk that seems to unfurl like magic, with majesty, before one. His is that golden voice that soars and glides, that…hovers in the air, all its golden energy pushed into one beautifully drawn-out note that seems like it will never stop just before it ends—not in a crash, like Icarus falling from the sky—but in a melodic fading away. Seamless.
Lettrice Lawrence, the singer/musician who is the subject of this issue’s “Real/Raw” interview, first introduced me to Brandon Ford, the singer. I had known Brandon previously—he was a student in one of my writing composition classes—and I knew he liked to sing, but I had never heard him sing until Lettrice asked me to allow Brandon to sing duets with her for the “Real/Raw” interview (video clips of Lettrice and Brandon singing duets accompany the "Real/Raw" interview). When I heard Brandon sing, I was surprised by his voice; I didn’t expect him to be that good. Of course, to sing with someone like Lettrice—to be invited to sing with Lettrice Lawrence—a bona fide, born-with-the-pipes, classically trained singer with considerable experience as both a singer and songwriter…? Well...! I knew that Brandon had to possess a good singing voice and sufficient training; a singer without these two qualities cannot stand next to a Lettrice Lawrence and sing a capella with her. But…he can hold his own with her. Standing beside her, both of them singing from the tips of their caramel toes to the crown of their heads, using every fiber of their beings to produce beautiful, organic human music together, he’s in the company of his peer. What makes this feat—singing well with Lettrice—so remarkable is that Brandon does not have Lettrice’s extensive experience and training as a singer. Lettrice first climbed onto a stage to sing in front of people when she was four years old—a year or two after she officially stopped being a toddler, sucking her thumb. Just 23 now, Brandon always liked to sing, but he did not determine to become a singer, to seek a degree in music, until his late teens. Yet…he’s able to stand tall next to Lettrice, to sing with her; he’s invited to sing with her.
But you know, that’s the great thing about art and artists when they’re generous: They act as each other’s fans and mentors; they promote each other; they are not jealous of each other; they are glad for each other’s successes. They are like Prof. Joyce Sweeney of West Los Angeles College, a former singer who is not only Brandon’s beloved music teacher, but also Lettrice’s beloved music teacher. Lettrice and Brandon share Prof. Sweeny’s generous spirit as an artist. And this reason is why Lettrice Lawrence and Brandon Ford are celebrated in feature articles in this Spring 2012 edition of West, the theme of which is "art as a collaborative process"; phenomenal artists in their own right, they show us that art, at its best, is a collaborative process, and when talented artists work together, nurture each other’s talent, everybody wins: the artists, and their audience.
Thank you, Lettrice Lawrence, Brandon Ford, and Professor Joyce Sweeney, for presenting art and artists to us in their most ideal forms: art as a collaborative process, and artists as generous collaborators who seek to encourage and not impede one another’s progress.
Editor's Note: Lettrice Lawrence's generosity extends to all artists, not just to Brandon Ford. In a note to me about the songs that accompany her interview and Brandon's interview, she writes: "[C]an you make sure you give Candice Cooper credit for singing and writing 'My Love Won't Change,' alongside Brandon Ford? I was not singing on that song." Asked if she would like that song to be excluded from the interviews—putting all the focus on her—she is surprised: No, Candice Cooper is a wonderful singer who deserves an audience, she writes to me in another note.
Listen:Lost in Paradise - Lettrice Lawrence with Brandon Ford
My Love Won't Change - Brandon Ford with Candice Cooper