A song for the nation

It’s not often you get invited to sing at an event as big as the U.S. Open, much less have the opportunity two years in a row.

(Above) South Charlotte 12-year-old Joshua King performs “America the Beautiful.”

(Above) South Charlotte 12-year-old Joshua King performs “America the Beautiful.”

But that’s what south Charlotte 12-year-old Joshua King recently experienced. Joshua performed “America the Beautiful” at the 2012 U.S. Open in New York, and event organizers enjoyed his performance so much that they invited him to come back this year.

Joshua and his family traveled to New York last week for the event, which took place Friday, Aug. 30. He took the stage at about 11:45 p.m. to perform his own rendition of “America the Beautiful” – partly inspired by the Ray Charles version, he said – and sang in front of an array of athletes, spectators and millions of viewers nationwide.

Singing in front of so many people, Joshua said, was surreal. After he sang, Joshua and his family stopped by a Wendy’s for a quick meal, and they noticed the restaurant was showing the U.S. Open on its televisions.

“That was cool to know that people in Wendy’s … saw me sing,” he said.

Joshua has been singing for about four years, but vocal performance wasn’t his first experience in entertainment. Joshua was previously involved in acting, filming a number of commercials, doing voiceovers for “The David Letterman Show” and acting as an extra in several films.

Several years ago, Joshua started playing the harmonica. He and his family realized he had a knack for music and soon discovered he possessed vocal talent, as well.

Firmly believing in Joshua’s singing ability, Joy King, Joshua’s mom, began researching vocal coaches and ended up connecting with Mark Baxter – a renowned instructor in Boston whose clients have included Jonny Lang, among others. After hearing Joshua sing, Baxter agreed to take him on as a student, and Joshua frequently takes voice lessons from Baxter via Skype.

“I don’t know what (Baxter) heard initially, but he definitely heard something,” Joy King said.

Joshua also has worked with another renowned vocal coach – Jan Smith, of Atlanta, whose students have included Justin Bieber and Usher. Joshua occasionally travels three and a half hours for lessons with Smith.

One of the things he’s learned from his vocal coaches is how to navigate his wide range, which spans the majority of the piano and is comparable to Mariah Carey’s range, his mom said.

“He’s learned how to navigate and control all those vocal registers, without ever belting a note,” she said. “If he didn’t (start seeing) Mark when he did, he wouldn’t be able to hit the high notes.”

In one of his many ventures singing in places like New York City and Washington, D.C., Joshua met well-known blues musician James Cotton, who took Joshua under his wing and has become “like a grandfather” to him. Joshua has sung with Cotton on numerous occasions and even wrote lyrics and a vocal melody to a song Cotton had written the instrumental part to.

Joshua’s experience with Cotton, other well-known musicians and his vocal coaches have helped grow his talent and prepare him to take on more challenging gigs, he said.

“Last year (during the U.S. Open), I freaked out and went astray on the song,” Joshua said. “This year, I was confident; thanks to Mark, I knew what I was doing.”

In the future, Joshua plans to continue taking voice and piano lessons, writing songs and listening to the artists he loves – Brian McKnight, Jonny Lang, Jeremy Camp and, of course, James Cotton.

“If it’s good music, (Joshua) appreciates it,” his mom said.

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