Opera singer Noah Stewart is a Harlem native, so for the acclaimed tenor to take the stage at the legendary Minton’s Playhouse on W. 118th Street was a significant moment. Hennessy Privilege showcased the internationally-renowned Stewart at Minton’s last night (June 16), and the singer dazzled with stirring renditions of everything from jazz standards (“The Lady Is A Tramp”) to Negro spirituals (“By the River”) and even a classic rock mainstay (“Dream On.”) He’s performed around the world, and for Stewart, it’s about connecting seemingly-disparate genres for a powerful musical experience.
“I wanted to bring the energy of the pop and rap world to classical music,” Stewart explains. “The beginnings of opera were like that—they were like rock concerts. I felt like me being a younger singer from Harlem — I have had such a rich experience in terms of so many cultures and my upbringing here and so many different genres of music — I wanted to bring that experience to classical music. That’s my goal.”
With his extensive following in Europe, Stewart bemoans the fact that classical music and opera seem to have fallen by the wayside in American culture.
“If you look at the music and arts in the public schools here in the United States— the first program in which I found classical music was in junior high school, and that program is gone,” he says. “My choir teacher inspired a huge number of great artists around the country and the world. I ran into her a year ago and she said ‘I’m at another school.’ And I thought how could they stop funding for the arts? We live sports and other forms of music — rap music, pop music — but we need to also be informed of classical music and also Negro spirituals. Before there was rap music, before there was gospel, it came out of the Negro spirituals.”
“It’s my position and my responsibility to continue to inform people all over the world that we as people of color have a place here. I want to see black folks at the opera, at the symphony,” he adds. “We should be there.”
“One can see the similarity — that music is music,” Stewart shares. “It’s all about feeling and emotion and a story and I think we all as people have an individual story to tell. They’re all individual, but they’re also all important.”