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My life: Howard McCrary

The singer and musician tells Olivia Rosenman about his harmonious childhood and keeping pace with the rhythm of Hong Kong

 

ONE IN TEN I'm sure you've heard of the term "hand-me-downs". I was No9, the youngest brother of eight boys and two sisters. We used to gather around the kitchen sink and sing after dinner, and my dad heard us harmonising. He was a choral master, but his day job was as a broiler operator for United States Steel. He was amazing, and I wanted to be just like him. He taught us song after song, harmony and syncopation. All the fundamentals of music. We started a singing group back in Youngstown, Ohio. And we were singing in churches then, in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and a little bit in Canada. It was at that point I decided I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. Music drew me in.

A THRILLER AND A THRILL The group went on to sign with a record company. I left it and got married, decided to raise a family and went out on my own. (Of all the stars McCrary went on to work with) it's difficult to choose one favourite, but if I had to choose it would be Michael Jackson. Michael knew how important it was to motivate everyone on his team with love to get the best performance, because he knew that love is the most powerful force in the universe. We loved him and he loved all of us like a family and made each of us feel like we were the most important person in the world. Together with love, nothing is impossible.

When they announced my name as a nominee for the Grammys (in 1986), I was stunned. This is musically one of the greatest honours. Also, for best male vocalist in the gospel category; it was an unbelievable moment for me.

NEW ERA After 30 years in Los Angeles, I decided to come to Hong Kong on an invitation. I was lecturing in Bel Air. In my class at a vocal camp for international students there was one very eminent Asian gentleman; he was very distinguished. His name was Larry Sampson and he came to me after my sixth lecture and said, "Howard, I know you said you're not singing much any more but I want you to come to Kowloon, Hong Kong." Then he showed me a breathtaking picture of this place called New Era, a dinner theatre (in the New World Centre) - it's gone now because they turned it into a disco - and he said, "Just come for three months and see how you like it." Well I have always been crazy about Bruce Lee. I said, "Hong Kong sounds good!" So I got on a plane and came.

Everything about this town resonated with me. I like the fact that there are no guns. I like the fact that there's a transportation system that can get you anywhere in rush hour. Coming from Los Angeles, that's a big issue. I like the people being friendly. I've been here now for over seven years and I have not met one unkind soul. You ask for directions, they just tell you where to go! And the food is great. And everyone is busy doing something, going somewhere. Hong Kong has a pace, and if you don't keep up with that pace, then you don't belong here. You should go to another city with another rhythm.

MUSICAL MIRACLES I remained true to myself and kept my musical integrity. I have a great admiration for the Chinese culture. I love Chinese opera. There are great artists here and I have great respect for what they do; they are world class. So I just bring what I have done since I was a kid to the Hong Kong scene. I've been told that what I do is different from anything that they've seen here. It's normal back home but I like that.

I always believe that whenever you have an opportunity to perform for your audience, it's a privilege, and you should perform as though it's the last night of your life. That's where the spontaneity, the spirit, the creation and improvisation comes in. That's where the unexpected and musical moments are born. It's the arena of what I call the miraculous; I have been a bit of a philosopher since age 14. When I first came here, I had a long run at the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental and the Dada Lounge. Though I was singing and performing in a club situation, I would share life experiences, advice. I would share the light of love and the love of music. And so the people who came to hear me perform, they got something a bit more than just music.

A STOP IN THE NAME OF LOVE I had been divorced twice. I had said I was through with love. But there was something about Ivy. She had such a peace about her. So I asked her, "Do you meditate?" And she said she'd been meditating for over seven years. I asked her if she would teach me, so that was the start of our friendship. Our courtship was like a Chow Yun-fat movie, where the man is sitting next to the girl and they don't touch, they don't speak, they never even hold hands, but there's a very strong emotion. I decided one day, just sitting next to her, that it was just too intense. I thought I better ask her to marry me. I was performing, singing this song I've Got You Under My Skin, and I got to the words "the thought of you makes me stop" and I stopped the band and I got up and I knelt before her with a rose. She was totally surprised and she said yes.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE It was Ivy's dream for me to have my first charity concert here in Hong Kong. We've aligned ourselves with a charity that is so touching; I had no idea that over 70,000 families are affected by epilepsy here in Hong Kong. Some of these families feel like they are facing this alone but there is an organisation that is reminding them that they are not alone: Enlighten - Action for Epilepsy. They are rolling up their sleeves and helping to remove the stigma of epilepsy. I see every man as my father, my brother or my son and I see every woman as my mother, my sister or my daughter. One day, the world will realise that we're all just one family.

 

The Howard McCrary Jazz Orchestra will perform on Tuesday and Wednesday at 8pm, at the Cultural Centre. Tickets are available through Urbtix www.urbtix.hk

 

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