April Johnson-Bynes was considering med school, but when she won the school talent show in fourth grade as a singer, she began to think, “Well, maybe I can do this.” She claims to have received her musical ability from her father, though it obviously runs in the whole family—she sang in the church choir with her mother and grandmother. April was part of a girl group, a la Destiny’s Child, in middle school, and graduated from the performing arts high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Impressivley, she sang back-up for both Sheena Easton and Roberta Flack when they came through her hometown. As a student at North Carolina A&T, she began stepping outside of gospel and R&B and exploring classical voice. As director of the choral and theater programs at William Monroe High School, Ms. Johnson-Bynes performs at Ash Lawn, and last month she gave a rousing performance at The Paramount Theater. She would very much like to sing at some of the larger venues, and ultimately has her sights set on The Kennedy Center.
Spencer Lathrop: The Paramount?
April Johnson-Bynes: The performance was intended to commemorate the Third Street entrance, which was the African-American entrance before the theater was integrated. I tried to cover the timeline of the African- American experience in this country. I sang Mozart, Brahms and Copland, and then went into negro spirituals, to hymns, then into jazz. Johnathan Spivey is my accompanist and my right-hand man.
For classical vocalists, I would say Leontyne Price, because I love her style. And I like Denyce Graves. For jazz, I like Billie Holiday. I studied her life and music when I was in college. The first time I heard her was her tune “Strange Fruit.” And I like Nina Simone for her versatility. I especially like her protest songs, like “Mississippi Goddam” and “I Hold No Grudge.” My idol is Aretha Franklin. I try to buy all of her records. And I like singers from the neo-soul era, like Anthony Hamilton. I like the Marvin Gaye sound, concientious music.
I love Aaron Copland. I performed “Shall We Gather By The River” from his American Songs at the Paramount. I really fell in love with his music while I was in college. His songs are so calming. I love Brahms. His love songs are so beautiful. And I love Beethoven because his style is so fiery.
By Spencer Lathrop