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Birmingham’s Elias Hendricks III to Perform Selections in “Opera Unveiled”

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Elias Hendricks III says Birmingham is one of his favorites places to perform because of family and friends. (PROVIDED)

By Barnett Wright | The Birmingham Times

Birmingham’s Elias Hendricks III will be one of the featured tenors during next week’s Opera Unveiled: A Concert of Greatest Hits, which will include the Opera Birmingham Chorus, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and several other artists.

The show will be held at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve been able to come back and sing solo,” Hendricks told the Birmingham Times in a recent interview. “[Birmingham] is really one of my favorites places to perform because I get to perform in front of my family and friends that have known me since I was a child. I’ve spent over a decade traveling around different countries … performing music for everyone else so these performances [next week] are very special to me.”

Hendricks’s talents have taken him across the globe where he’s performed in the title role of Simba in Disney’s “The Lion King,” toured Europe with his one-man soul show “Aint Too Proud to Beg,” and, as the lead singer of The Temptations in “Motown: the Musical” on London’s West End.

Hendricks, 37, said he brings a range of influences to his performances.

“I’ve sung every style that you can imagine. Simba in the Lion King, Broadway and musical theatre … I’ve been the lead singer of a touring soul show in Europe for two and a half years, I have as vast knowledge of Motown and soul roots and I went to New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Birmingham, so I know a little something about gospel too.”

And let’s not forget the classical.

During “Opera Unveiled” Hendricks will perform two selections: an Act 3 duet from La Boheme with baritone Daniel Seigel. “I’m going to do my own classical soul fusion version of that,” he said. The second selection is “O Sole Mio” a well-known Neapolitan song made famous by Luciano Pavarotti.

Coming home feels like the culmination of “all of my studies and my travels, all the music and the experiences that I had,” Hendricks said, “ … like I’m sharing my life and my experiences with my closest friend and family.”

Master Class

It was at the age of 15 in a master class at the Carver Theatre in Birmingham that Hendricks first felt his inspiration.

He remembers seeing a group of three Black tenors perform at the Alabama Theater in downtown Birmingham and wanting to be like that group – Three Mo’ Tenors just as he was beginning his own career as a budding singer in styles as varied as that group’s, which encompassed everything from soul and blues to opera.

“It was not only just the representation of them being Black men performing opera and also infusing it with our cultural, musical elements of gospel, blues and soul … it was just the ease in the way that they were able to do all of those things at once,” Hendricks said.

The next day, he was among a number of local students who were invited to participate in a master class with the group, where the singers further encouraged the teen.

“I remember when [the group] told me, ‘Hey, you can have a career at this. You sound great. I love your tone. You seem to have such command of this music,’ and I was like, ‘What? me, for real?’ That was a huge endorsement … as far as a confidence booster,” Hendricks recalled.

That inspiration would eventually lead Hendricks to form Vox Fortura, the only Black male classical crossover quartet in the world. Hendricks said the group, which he put together in 2016 to compete on “Britain’s Got Talent,” performs a style he calls “classical soul.”

Vox is the Latin word for voice, and “Fortura” is a combination of “fortis,” the Latin word for strong, as well as the words fortune and future. “Strong voices of the future is kind of what we call it,” he said.

“We’re taking music that is unique to Black people and stylings that are unique to the African American historical musical experience, and we combine those elements into classical music,” he explained.

Joining The School Choir

Hendricks is a graduate of the Altamont School, where he said he first became aware of his vocal talent. A soccer athlete at the school, he initially joined the school’s choir in seventh grade for fun.

“I decided I want to join the choir because the cute girls were in there, and…a third of our upper school was in choir, so it was a really, really popular thing to do,” Hendricks said.

After graduating from Altamont, Hendricks participated in a summer program at the Tanglewood Music Center at Boston University, before going to Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, TX, where he studied opera.

When he finished SMU in 2009, he went on to the Juilliard School in New York City, where he put together his concept of combining music from the African American tradition with the older European music he had come to love, he said.

After finishing up Juilliard in 2012, Hendricks left for the Disneyland in Hong Kong, China, where he played Simba in the musical version of “The Lion King” until 2014.

Following a six-month stint where Hendricks performed his own show on a world cruise, Hendricks decided to move to London, United Kingdom in 2015, where he auditioned for “Motown: The Musical.” Hendricks secured his spot to play Dennis Edwards, a Birmingham native in the show in 2016.

To this day, Hendricks remembers the confidence he found as a teenager and now he wants to inspire others as well.

“If you had told me at 15, ‘hey Elias you’re going to be Simba in the Lion King in Hong Kong and then you’re going to go to London and you’re going to be in the opening cast of brand-new musical and you’re going to play a man (Dennis Edwards) from Birmingham, Alabama in London’ I would have laughed at you. Life has a way of opening up opportunities for you. I’m happy to have had those experiences and bring it back to my hometown.”

“Opera Unveiled: A Concert of Greatest Hits” will take place at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m. To find out more or buy tickets, visit https://www.operabirmingham.org/opera-unveiled