Time For Jubilation

Time For Jubilation

Sykes stays low key in the middle of high-profile career


Jubilant Sykes says he could never have been John Legend. Pop music was his first love, he admits, but it wasn’t his destiny.

“No one would have paid any attention to me,” the Los Angeles native says of that potential alternate reality. “My voice, my demeanor, my persona are geared more toward classical or jazz. And those were the doors that opened. People were more interested in me when I sang legit.”

Calling his internationally praised and Grammy nominated baritone “legit” reinforces Sykes’ low-key humility in the middle of a high-profile career. He’s performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the New Orleans Jazz Festival, with Julie Andrews and the Boston Pops and with Carlos Santana at the Hollywood Bowl. None of it would have happened, however, had a junior high teacher not played him a recording of a Bach cantata, “Ich habe genug” — “I Have Enough” — sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a German lyric baritone. He liked it, he says, because it sounded like pop music. And when he heard it again in high school, “I went after everything Bach — and people started hiring me to sing it!”

With a name like Jubilant, Sykes was always easy for conductors to remember, he admits with a laugh. But it’s not a personality trait that comes naturally to him. “Maybe ‘morose,’” he says, “or ‘melancholy.’” But he adds that’s obviously not true all the time; “I couldn’t be married and have three kids and not be jubilant.” He got the name, he says, because his mother believed kids grew into their names. His children are named Madison, Morgan and Micah — “nothing exotic.”

But “exotic” might be the only expansive adjective not regularly applied to Sykes’ performances.

Critics call his voice remarkable, his presence charismatic, passionate and enthralling.

“Sykes is a distinctive (and wonderfully uncategorizable) singer by any standard,” The Washington Post wrote. “His voice is rich and beautifully controlled, with a molten bottom and shimmering top, the articulation razor-sharp…”

“Sykes’ approach to the role, vocally and theatrically, was a revelation,” added The Baltimore Sun. “He produced a symphony of tone colors and inflections, digging deeply into the character…”

Or simply, as the Detroit Free Press put it, “Baritone Jubilant Sykes stole the show.”

Still, he admits, he most enjoys singing with an orchestra, as he will Sept. 9 with the Fort Smith Symphony.

“John is a great conductor — that’s the ticket right there,” Sykes says, having performed with Jeter in 2011. “But I love orchestral singing more than anything. Not just the glory of the orchestra, not just because of the sound, but because I feel at home there, standing in the orchestra. Some of the angst goes away — recitals make you a little more vulnerable, and even with quartets, you stand out more. With an orchestra, I feel like I’m a part of something bigger; we’re all there together.”

Asked what he aspires to in the future, Sykes offers up a surprising answer.

“Truth be told, I always wanted to act — even when I was in junior high, high school, always,” he says, “but it wasn’t the thing to do when I was growing up. Theater was where all the freaks hung out! I was singing, and I got known for it, and that was the door that opened. So I never had an opportunity to venture into acting. And then as I started working more, there was no time.”

In 2014, Sykes made his acting debut in “Freedom,” and he was encouraged in the pursuit by producer and star Cuba Gooding Jr.

“But would I be bold enough and daring enough to take a hiatus from singing and go full-time acting?” he muses. “I’m not sure [what I want to be when I grow up], but I’m enjoying the journey.”

Photo courtesy Micah Sykes
Jubilant Sykes returns to the Fort Smith Symphony stage Sept. 9 to perform two folk songs by Aaron Copland; Mozart’s “Non Piu Andrai” from the opera “The Marriage of Figaro”; plus traditional arrangements of “Were You There?” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”



Jubilant Sykes

With the Fort Smith Symphony

WHEN — 3 p.m. Sept. 9

WHERE — Arcbest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith

COST — $30-$50

INFO — 452-7575

BONUS — The orchestra will also perform the overture to the 1940 film “The Sea Hawk” by Eric Wolfgang Korngold and “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Categories: Music