Black Voices Matter
By Jaron M. LeGrair
These last several days in America have been extremely difficult for me. Seeing a long line of direct attacks against my community has been painful, confusing, and draining.
I am grieving. I am tired. I am angry. I am hurt.
I have been using these days to reflect and think about my experiences as a Black man in America – even as an artist and teacher. I, too, have been met with stereotypical treatment based on my race.
It was during my time as a voice major in my undergraduate program that I realized I wanted to be a professor and voice teacher. Of course, I wanted to be a professor and teacher because I loved to sing and I enjoyed finding ways to help others sing, but I also wanted to be a professor and teacher because I wanted to be the person I always needed but never was able to have – a Black voice teacher in academia. And if I were completely honest, I never had a black teacher in any capacity during my education since kindergarten unless they were a substitute teacher.
Though I was and am a versatile singer who was able to transition from classical to gospel to musical theatre with ease, I was met with opposition because of that during my education. My own voice professor at the time did not want me to sing anything but classical because gospel would “ruin my voice.” However, gospel music was how I learned how to sing in the first place. I grew up singing soprano and alto in church, and gospel was and is the very music that connects me to my faith and to my heritage as a Black person in America. So for them to essentially tell me to stop singing the genre that I fell in love with first was very hard to deal with – and offensive.
Even during my time in graduate school, I was met with opposition. I remember one day in a class full of students, the teacher asked “Who wants to start their own studio?” I was the only one who raised their hand. A few of the other students were perplexed as they turned around and looked at me with confusion in their eyes. The teacher went on to ask about what I would do with the studio and who I would like to teach. I answered by saying that I ‘desired to provide voice training for gospel singers, R&B singers, even speech training for preachers!’ A doctoral student then commented about my statement and said that my ideology could be unsuccessful equating my desire with being a ‘jack of all trades but a master of none.’ Their further explained that ‘gospel singers ruin their voices with the way they sing.’ I was extremely offended, yet even more determined to change the narrative and the misconception about Black voices and the Black vocal arts. I knew I had to get through these academic programs, earn the degrees, and push through the opposition to bring the knowledge I gained back to my community, the Black community.
After graduating with my Masters and beginning my Studio (the Jaron M. LeGrair Studio), it has been a goal of mine to help singers and occupational voice users who look like me. I wanted to help provide these voice users with the tools that are not accessible to them. As a result of my ongoing plight, I decided to take my passion further by conducting and presenting research on Black vocal genres for many audiences across the United States and overseas- including The 9th Estill World Symposium in London, England in 2019!
Through the wonderful sense of community I receive from my fellow Estill enthusiasts and my training as an EFP, I am able to use what I know about the voice to help so many others find theirs. But even still, there is a long road up ahead for progressive change within our vocation as voice users, vocal artists, and voice professionals. There is a severe lack of representation of Black professionals and artists in many institutions, universities, departments, and organizations. On top of that, true vocal techniques, resources, and research for Black vocal arts is scarce because of the misconceptions and the miseducation of our voices, our genres, and our experiences.
As a Black man, who is also a voice teacher, speech trainer, professor, and entrepreneur, I am honored to help defeat the odds, the opposition, and the oppression my people face by continuing to do what I love to do and advocate for all voice professionals and artists. However, I and we cannot do it alone. We need everyone advocating to ensure that all voices are heard – even Black voices. Find ways to incorporate more Black composers and/or music in your library. Ensure that diversity, inclusion, and appropriation are present aspects of your ethics and philosophies. In whatever way you see fit, be an ally for equality and equity for our community and the human race.
Black Voices Matter. Black Lives Matter.
About the Author
Founder and Owner of the Jaron M. LeGrair Studio, Jaron is a voice teacher, vocal coach, speech coach, voice researcher, professor, and entrepreneur who loves to help people use their voice as efficiently as possible. A singer by trade, Jaron has dedicated his career to understanding the voice and how it works. Jaron holds his Estill Figure Proficiency.