LGBT Senior Laurence Albert: Bass-baritone and Buddhist

interview by Joan Allison | photo courtesy of Laurence Albert

OK, so here’s an awkward first question: are you gay?

Probably the best way to honestly describe myself is bisexual…I am happy being in love, when I’m fortunate enough to have that happen; but, the gender of the object of my affection is not the major criteria by which I decide if I’m attracted, or not…

On your Facebook page, you have many posts on the topic of social justice. What is the most concerning issue to you now?
I am worried that so many gains that western society has made between the end of the Second World War and today are being either diluted, or all together undone. I am very concerned about environmental pollution, and of course, global warming…

In 1992, I became Nichiren Buddhist… My study of Buddhism has helped me be clear on how I can affect my environment, my community, and believe it or not, my country and the world, while fighting for values centered around peace…

Off-stage, I have a “soft” personality; but, Buddhism has shown me how to be bold, but without willfully making the negative causes that are often be connected with self- realization. For us, the goal is always happiness for oneself AND others.

I read that you studied at Morehouse College under Wendell Whalum, Kirk Whalum’s uncle. What did Whalum instill in you through his teachings?
Dr. Whalum is an icon in my eyes. What I learned from this man serves me (and my students!) to this day. He was strict, sometimes stern, VERY demanding, and thorough. … We sang everything…He was a stickler for accuracy, and the proper application of correct stylistic practice. We couldn’t do it ‘approximately.’ He insisted that it had to be world-class level or it would not be good enough.

Because Morehouse College is an historic HBCU (Historical Black College or University) we had to also excel in the performance of the Negro Spiritual…It had to be just as respectfully and as diligently prepared as any composition written by any composer of European descent…

Dr. Whalum opened up the world to me. (During my freshman year), he took the Glee Club on a five-country tour of Africa. Dr. Whalum was also a Mensch! He was one of the kindest human beings I have ever known. He mentored, and helped us at every turn. His humor kept us in stitches in between work sessions. His love of the arts, and of philosophy showed me that the African- American male could be much more multi-dimensional than normally depicted, or allowed by anyone…

Knowing that Dr. Whalum was graduated from the Memphis Public School System, that he had gone to school with my mom at Booker T. Washington, that his family and my family were products of Memphis’ poor, working- class African-American community, that he and his family had attended the same church as mine did (Avery Chapel, AME), influenced me, greatly. And, knowing that he had successfully overcome racial roadblocks and hurdles, I was given the drive I needed to begin the arduous task of trying to establish a career in classical music in the 1970’s. To say that I am deeply indebted to him doesn’t come close to describing my gratitude.

You are a music educator. What can students expect to learn if they take your courses?
…I worked at Rhodes College in the Music Department for five years as Adjunct Professor of Music in Voice. Rhodes gave me my first opportunity to work in higher education in the United States. I got to work as Adjunct Professor of Voice at the University of Memphis for one year during that same period, and I also worked at LeMoyne-Owen College for one semester…(I just began) my fourth year as Assistant Professor of Music at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. …

My students all know that discipline, preparation, and research are important to me. Because I love languages; diction and knowing one’s text is of primary importance. I am interested in developing young ARTISTS, foremost. If a student wants good grades from me, they must prove to me that every aspect of the arts is touched on in their preparation.

My history, voice, opera, and music literature classes are all relevant to everything we hear today. You couldn’t have any famous 21st century artist of any genre, without the artistic contributions of every artist that has come before them. All cultures mesh into what we listen to or watch daily; and all of them are a part of, and have contributed to what we often arrogantly take for granted as “new”, “current”, or “modern”!

Looks like you have many accolades from French entities. Do you consider yourself a Francophile?
France (is) like a second home to me. I lived and worked in France for about 20 years, so the people, the country, and the culture occupy a very important place in my life and spirit… the French have taught me a great deal about life, friendship, and the arts in general. French food and drink are special to me, too. I can’t deny that!!!

During the same period I lived in France, I would be engaged in Germany and Switzerland for very long periods of time, as well… I consider them home, too.

One thing is for sure: I made strong friendships in all those countries that only get stronger as time goes by. Friendship is very important in each of these cultures…I really like that, because those are the exact same values that my parents, grandparents, and their friends exhibited around me, growing up.

What’s coming up for you? Where can we see you perform?
Even though I am discussing a couple of things with prospective concert organizers, I don’t have anything to speak about, right now. New offers will begin to trickle in once the summer season is finished. I will let you, and your readers know where I get invited to sing as soon as things become solidified! I would love to have new friends interested in my singing for them present this upcoming season!