The Beat ‘N’ Track plays on this month with junior Rayvon Owen. The commercial voice major from Richmond, Va., credits the church for giving him his love of music. Since his days of belting solos in choirs, he’s garnered big successes in both the Commercial and Christian showcases at Belmont and beyond. Senior A&E writer Dustin Stout found out the voice that “will make you laugh, cry, love, want, think, feel uplifted and inspired” is gearing up to surprise fans with something they’ve never heard before.
I understand you started singing in church. How have those beginnings created the musician who sits here today?
The church has been my foundation not only musically but also spiritually and emotionally. I strive to reflect the character of Christ, as a Christian, and I hope my music reflects who I am as a person. Musically, gospel music is not just entertaining and full of creative and innovative characteristics, but it is also a music that causes you to feel. From the first time I opened my mouth to sing in church, through gospel music, I was taught how to be a singer who feels and connects with what or who I’m singing about. That’s the most important thing the church has taught me as a musician – that … and how to riff!
Do you remember your first solo in church? Were you nervous? Talk about that experience.
I do remember my first big solo in church. I was in the “Sunbeam Choir,” as they called it back then. I led a song called “There Is Hope,” originally done by the Mississippi Mass Children’s Choir. I remember the foam cover on the microphone being almost as a big as my face. I don’t remember being extremely nervous, but I do remember being surprised at the reaction of the congregation. I can remember church ladies in big hats dancing and weeping, people on their feet clapping and my pastor looking at me with a big smile on his face. It was during that moment when I knew that there was something there. I realized that I had something to offer through singing.
You’re also an alumnus of the Henrico High School Gospel Choir and a past member of the Richmond Boys Choir. How have those experiences helped you to become the vocalist/performer you are today?
I’m so grateful for both of these experiences, especially the Richmond Boys Choir. I joined the choir at the beginning of middle school. It was the best decision of my life. Through this organization, I had the privilege of performing with jazz legend Al Jarreau and in front of people such as The Queen of England and Prince Phillip, former First Lady Laura Bush, Desmond Tutu and the first African-American Governor of Virginia Douglas Wilder. The choir taught me professionalism, musical technique … made me a better speaker, improved my vocal ability, gave me confidence … I could go on for days. The best thing about that experience … is that it inspired me to pursue music as a career – and also, the director of the choir told me about Belmont! There are few organizations where you get the chance to learn all styles of music and perform at a professional level at that age. It was a life-changing six years of my life.
You mention you knew you wanted to pursue music as a member of the Richmond Boys Choir. Talk more about the moment you knew you wanted to do this for the rest of your life.
I can’t say there was one specific day where I just decided to pursue music as my career, but I can definitely say that the church was a springboard to where I am today. The church taught me how to understand and appreciate music and helped unlock natural, raw, God-given talent. Other organizations, such as the Richmond Boys Choir and school ensembles, helped to teach me the “other stuff” about music that you don’t necessarily learn in church. But the church was – and still is – a huge support group for me. It was my church family that encouraged me to sing. When I began to perform outside of church, I learned that the stage was a comfortable space for me. I enjoyed ministering to congregations, but I also learned to connect with outside crowds. I was – and still am – filled with joy when I see the smiles that are put on people’s face when I perform. That’s where my passion to pursue music came from – not just because it was fun but also because I learned that I could use music as a tool to lift and inspire others and change lives. That is still my goal today.
What artists inspire you? What about those performers influences you?
I am inspired by so many different artists for different reasons. Growing up, I admired gospel artists like Donnie McClurkin, Kierra Sheard, Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, CeCe Winans and Mary Mary. These artists unknowingly taught me how to minister to audiences through singing. Musically, I am inspired by Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Eric Benet, Donnie Hathaway, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke and Luther Vandross. I am also obsessed with performances by Fantasia, Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton, oddly enough. They especially taught me how to give to audiences. All of these artists inspired me to sing for audiences, not just to them.
How have your influences and your past experiences in church influenced your own style? How would you describe your style to someone who’s never heard you?
I would describe my style as old school and gospel with an urban/pop edge, a voice that will make you laugh, cry, love, want, think and feel uplifted and inspired. My past experiences and influences have taught me how to deliver all of those emotions in one package.
You also studied musical theatre and graduated from the Center for the Arts at Henrico County High School. Describe your time there and how your experience in musical theatre has helped you to hone your performance ability on stage.
My four years spent studying at the Center for the Arts was also an experience I’m so grateful for. Musical theatre is another world sometimes, but I am thankful to have been in it. I learned how to become a more versatile singer who can think on his feet. Studying musical theatre made me very comfortable with moving around and commanding the stage, which can be a very scary and vulnerable space for a singer. Studying at the Center for the Arts gave me such an appreciation for all types of art. It challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone of singing gospel. It taught me how to be an artist.
Speaking of musical theatre, you recently played the role of Seaweed Stubbs in Belmont’s production of the Broadway hit “Hairspray.” What was that experience like and do you hope to do similar stage productions in the future?
Playing the role of Seaweed J. Stubbs in “Hairspray” with Belmont’s Musical Theatre program was an unforgettable experience. I was reminded of how much hard work goes into putting a musical together and how the outcome can enlighten so many people. In all honesty, it actually reminded me of one of the very reasons why I sing. After leaving the stage, people were so thankful and grateful for my performance. Musical theatre is just another tool I have in my pocket to inspire people. So, if I get the chance to be a part of another production – which I hope I do – in the future, I will totally hop on board. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see me on Broadway someday.
Your current single is called “Brand New Day.” What about “Brand New Day” made you choose it as a single? Where can fans purchase it?
“Brand New Day” is a song that came to me last year when I was riding in the car on my way home. I was in a great mood that day and I remember being so thankful for the events that happened to me and the people in my life, and I was so happy to have another chance to do it all over again the next day. I continued writing the song that night. My goal is to have music that breaks boundaries and can be universally liked – or at least appreciated – by everyone. I wanted to let people know that no matter what tough situations you might be going through, there is always a fresh start and hope in tomorrow. The scripture “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” from Psalms 30:5 – that’s why I decided to use this as my single. I wanted people to feel how I felt without shoving Jesus in their face. It’s just a fun “dancy,” catchy song that everyone can enjoy. Fans can purchase it on iTunes, Amazon and most major online music retailers.
Is there any more new music coming down the pipeline from you anytime soon? Can you give us any hints about what it will be?
Well, “Brand New Day” is a single and will probably remain as that. I worked hard on it, and I thought it would be a good way to introduce me to those who don’t know me. But it also serves as a transition into the new stuff that I’m currently working on, which is a little different. I am currently working with some new producers and engineers to showcase myself from a different angle. As of right now, I am not set to release any official songs or albums, but I hope to be able to give a sneak peek of the new stuff I’m working on this summer. I think people will really enjoy the new sound.
You have performed in both the Christian and Commerical showcases. Talk about those experiences and what they taught you.
The Christian Showcase was a blessing for me. It reassured me performing as an artist is definitely what I wanted to be doing as a career. I must admit that I was a bit nervous sharing my original music to Belmont for the first time, but the overwhelming positive response from that showcase has been so vital to my personal and spiritual life. Not only did I gain some great industry contacts, but it was a way for God to reveal some things to me about my musical journey. Both the Christian and Commercial showcases taught me that even though you might not say “Jesus” or “God” in your music, you can still affect and minister to the lives of those listening and watching. I’m really thankful for that moment.
What else you’d like the Belmont community to know about you?
I just want the Belmont community to know that I am immensely appreciative of all the support they have shown me and other local Belmont artists. I do not take it lightly when my peers come out to support me and my music. It really means a lot to me.