Noteworthy grads

Noteworthy graduates: Amanda Brown from ‘The Voice’

Amanda Brown from ‘The Voice’

Amanda Brown is familiar to millions as a contestant this past season on NBC’s hit vocal-competition show “The Voice.” Brown made it into the final six and was an apparent favorite among many viewers. “Far and away the best singer on the Voice this season” … “such a star” … “amazing range” are among the online comments about her performances. Her rendition of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” led Rolling Stone magazine to declare she had the contest “locked down.” Even before “The Voice,” the 27-year-old made a name for herself, including as a backup vocalist for Alicia Keyes, Stevie Wonder and Adele. Her path to a singing career began in the public schools. After attending PS 163 and PS 58 in the Bronx, she went to MS 80, where music teacher David Kazansky pushed her in 8th grade to audition for LaGuardia HS of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Kazansky recalls the sharp contrast between Brown’s reserved personality and her powerful singing. “Here was this shy girl with this phenomenal voice.”

I started singing in church when I was six. I lived with my mom, and she sang and played the piano. But I spent a lot of time with my dad, and all through school I went to church four times a week with him. He played trumpet and bass guitar in church.

One of the first times I sang something besides gospel was at a 3rd-grade school assembly, when I was one of a few students who each sang solo on different parts of the Mariah Carey song “Hero.”

I knew the song from a tape of my mother’s. But it was a little scary. Everyone in my family wanted me to sing gospel. School gave me an excuse to sing other things.

At MS 80, in 7th and 8th grades, I took music. My singing was probably the one quality that made me a bit more recognizable among students at the school. Otherwise I would not have been very noticeable.

I had a silly side when I was around my friends and family. But at school I could be more reserved, the kind of person who likes to feel things out first.

I remember Mr. Kazansky in 8th grade saying I was good enough to audition for LaGuardia HS and get in. I also applied to a high school for fashion. I did a little bit of drawing and at that time was maybe more into fashion than music. I got into both schools, but my teachers and family said, “You should go to LaGuardia.” So I did.

That became my first time going out of the Bronx alone. I always was a bit independent, going off on my own. But I didn’t really know Manhattan.

When I started at LaGuardia, I didn’t know music history or how to read music. I got a bit of experience and knowledge at that school. When you have those, you get more confident, knowing what your abilities are and what you’re capable of.

I took this really great course by Robert Apostle called “New Music Singers.” You learned to write your own music and at the end of the semester you’d perform what you had written.

I had always jotted things in my journal. But I had never sung my songs in front of other people

Mr. Apostle was a really cool, funny guy. You didn’t feel like there was this huge authority figure standing over you. Sometimes he’d have suggestions, but there was always kind of a pat on the back for even getting up and doing it.

Another important teacher was Andres Andrade. He taught us how to sing classical songs in other languages — German, French, Italian and Spanish. He was very, very kind to me and always made me feel like I had something special.

I also sang with the school’s gospel choir. The teacher, Ramon Reeberg, told me to try out for a solo. I’d never felt I was good at gospel. But I auditioned anyway and got the part. That taught me to just go for it whether you feel you’re going to succeed or not, and also that there’s always going to be an element of nervousness.

The head of the music department, Bernice Fleischer, was also one of my cool people. She always looked for opportunities for students to perform.

When there was a request for students to sing at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Bloomberg, she invited me to be part of that.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, our school choir sang at the lighting of the flame, and I sang “God Bless America” solo. I was very nervous standing in front of former Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki and with all these politicians there. But it was meaningful. I felt proud to be a part of that moment and to help people get through it.

— As told to Contributing Editor Maia Davis

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