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Get to know Berkley The Artist

Photo by: Dragon Photography

New Orleans has always been known for its rich musical history and its host of talented musicians, but this next artist from The City truly has something special. He is a man that wears many hats, from Vocal Coaching to university professor, to Television Show Contestant and performer. He seems to have done it all. We are honored to have had the pleasure to interview him about his life and his journey in music. Check out our interview with Berkley the Artist.

SFND MAG: Mr. Berkley, we want to first thank you for interviewing with So FN Dope Magazine. We are definitely glad to have you. How have you been? BERKLEY: I’m happy to share this time with you all. What a year! It’s like a warp-zone or something! But, it seems like we’ve made it over into a new world and I’m glad I made it! Crazy times though. SFND MAG: We’ve seen and heard of you on the West Coast, but one of our founders, Corey Norwood, said he went to high school with you. So you’re from New Orleans? Guess I’m supposed to ask you what ward you from?…[LAUGHS] BERKLEY: Yes, Corey and I went to McDonogh #35 Sr. High School in New Orleans. We are from a very proud heritage. Our high school was the first public African American High School in New Orleans. Our school motto was “ A choice; not an echo.” As you can see, I’m still devoted to the excellence we were taught! It was there that I began to really grow as an artist and young person with high hopes and big dreams. I’ve never wanted anything regular. I’m from a part of town called Gentilly. It’s the 8TH ward. SFND MAG: How was it growing up in such a musically complex city? What I mean by complex is, New Orleans is well known for Jazz as well as Bounce Music, two totally different ends of the spectrum. How has the music of your city shaped you into the artist you have become or has it? BERKLEY: New Orleans’ music is only complex when experiencing it from the outside. For us, it’s all the same music. Jazz, Bounce, Brass, Second Line, Gospel, R&B and even Classical. The thing that is complex is who is making it; enjoying it a certain type of New Orleans people sing and play jazz versus the ones that do second line music. I grew up in a very musical family. My dad’s side of the family were working musicians, choir directors, organists and singers. My grandmother played piano for our church and had the best soprano voice you’ve ever heard. Like Sarah Vaughn and Sarah Jordan Powell. My father’s voice and way of performing shaped a lot of my musical taste. He is what we call in the classical world a Basso Profundo. I sat behind him in our choir stand every Sunday watching the people respond to his preaching and singing. Learning. Growing. On my mother’s side there was a different type of refinement. Disciplined and finely dressed performances were praised and encouraged. My mother saw to it that I was reared in piano lessons, children’s choirs and play rehearsals. We’d watch Star Search together on Saturday nights and enjoy the red carpets before award shows. For me, there was no complexity at all. Just goals. SFND MAG: Berkley your sound is so eclectic and refreshing with heavy gospel undertones. Aside from your father, who are your musical influences? BERKLEY: Whenever I sing there is one person who constantly appears in my heart. Whitney Houston. It was the “God” feeling in her voice and the approach of her notes, phrases and mannerisms that invigorated me. Growing up in a strict home, I used to sneak and listen to her music. Tevin Campbell and Alanis Morrissette. Then I’d also be harmonizing with my brother and sister to Phantom of the Opera and Fiddler on the Roof. Our home was extremely musical! When my mother enrolled me in the New Orleans Children’s Choir, I was the only black boy in the choir at that time. I felt the pressure to be amazing; which personally think is good for some children. At one point, my mom said to me “If you’re going to be a musician you have to be great at every part of it.” That stuck in my head and I wanted to make her proud and impress my father. So, I took it very seriously. I studied at Dillard University for undergrad and learned all that I could about my instrument. If there was some sound or style that I couldn’t replicate, I’d become obsessed in learning it. Secretly, I always had a sense of needing to know more! I’m sort of a nerd in that way. I’ll watch documentaries about an artist so I can pinpoint where their style was birthed. Then I’ll feel as if I really knew the artist and what they were really going through. It gave me a sense of connection to someone great. Someone that overcame something terrible. I needed that feeling. One day, I believe people will study me too. I honestly do. SFND MAG: Speaking of gospel you were in the top 10 of BET’S Sunday Best some years back, how was that experience and what did you learn during that process? BERKLEY: This experience of being thrusted into the spotlight because of a television show was the best thing that could happen. Here’s the deal. I had no desire to be on Sunday Best. I’d watch the show and loved the singing but I just didn’t want to be seen as Gospel artist, only. I love Gospel music the most, but I was never really accepted in that circle. Either I was too “worldly, white, or weird.” I can laugh about it now, but back then those opinions really shook me because I loved the people of the church world. Everything I understood about people was shaped by this community. So when I made it on to the show and did well I was devastated when certain church wouldn’t allow me to sing at them. It was tough. I began pulling away from the church music world all together. Not because I didn’t love them. They just didn’t love me. It’s ten years later and I just started being a singer in the church again. Life is a dance and you just have to keep dancing before the rhythm strikes you just right. I’m confident and strong in myself these days, so I can handle heat when it shows up. SFND MAG: Berkley, how do you balance everything? After researching, I feel like you are a million different people… [LAUGHS] Berkley the Vocal Coach, Berkley the Musical Director, Berkley the Professor, Berkley of Water Seed, Berkley the Artist. Is it difficult for you to find a balance? BERKLEY: When I think of my family, I think of busy people. Growing up in New Orleans I witnessed people do a lot of things. You’d have several odd jobs, organizations you were a part of, types of people you’d share time with and so on. So, it comes as no new notion that I too, would be a busy man. Currently I am a professor of Pop/Commercial Music at Loyola University. Every day I walk onto this campus and into my office, I am in awe of what God can do. As a Black boy in New Orleans, I learned, very young, that St. Charles Ave. is where the rich, White people live and socialize. Many of my relatives would clean houses in this part of town only two generations ago. Can you imagine how I walk onto this majestic, red-brick campus? DIGINIFIED! Yes, I am often contracted as a musical and creative director for artists that are ready to elevate their creative production. This is actually one of my favorite parts of producing artists, including myself. For instance, the project I am working on now is coming along nicely. My sister, Margaret Anne has been writing with me and our chemistry is a blessing because we really know one another. I have a great guy named Nick Merc