“Youman Wilder Talks About His Return To The New York Performing Stage,His Stroke, And How He Overcame The London Drug Scene And Childhood Abuse

By Harold Marlsboro
September 10th 2016

South-Hampton N.Y — After a 3-year hiatus from A 200 show a year round touring, singing great Youman Wilder will be on the New York music club scene again.

“I have had an incredibly quick week,” says the Brooklyn born and buffed private 53-year-old singer as he jets into the dark, intimate lounge of UWS Cleopatra’s Needle restaurant wearing a brown slacks and matching linen shirt  that show case his tree trunk arms.

Before he settles down to talk, he picks his cell phone to make sure his dinner date is coming.

After some muffled “OKs,” he plops down with a sigh and finishes his orange juice.

“Professionally, personally and otherwise,” he continues, “things have not been going well.

This year has just worn my tolerance down. And recently . . . suddenly, there have been a lot of things to do with little time to do them.”

That list of “things to do” has included singing a duet with up and coming songstress “Bella”as well as writing and performing songs for 2 independent films.

In addition Wilder will make his return to The Apollo Theater this Fall and he recently was nominated for best Rhythm and Blues Male Vocalist for for the 7th time by the  Village Voice,even through he only performed a week at “Barbes” in Brooklyn

The 3x winner for the Critics and Village Voice Male Vocalist of The Year  right now, like most balladeers, he’s got love on his mind.

His dinner date and girlfriend of 4 years is Traci Shoremakin

Although he claims not to be “the world’s most foremost authority on love,” he admits to having good luck with relationships.

“If they start off with mutual respect at first,” he says, over a dinner of pasta and salad. “But then we both have to go to work at it. And when I say, `Come on lets work on this together ,that’s when things start and can fall and stay in a good place.

“It’s a lot to ask of any individual, it’s a lot to ask of a woman, to have them watch you work a place with 300, 500 . . . women, and they’re all panting after you,” he says jokingly. .

Yet Wilder says he hasn’t taken advantage of those “inalienable privileges afforded a performer” since he was touring the world.

“I have a compelling conscience,” he says. “And when you have that and someone in your life who gives your life meaning, it’s easy to walk away. ”

After dating several well known models in Europe,Wilder returned to the States and has been linked with former model  Shoremakin since 2014.

The attention and adoration he lavishes on women may well date back to his upbringing. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the second of four children, he pretty much became the man of the house at 13, when his step-father and famed Gospel Singer Anna Pleasant divorced.

“To say the day she left him was the best day of my life would be an understatement”

My mom had re-married when I was about 4 and it was hell,he was an abusive,violent drunk , and it took me so long to get away from hating that man!!!

The names he called my mother and brothers was disgusting, its probably why I don’t really try to offend people with cutting words.

He was that kinda guy who if you were doing well, “He would find a way to bring you down, its like you aint better than me”

I think my mom knew it was time to leave when I at age 11 had made my Little League All-Star team and he said I couldn’t go.I put on my uniform and said I am going and no one is going to touch me!!!

I was willing to kill that man that day with hand, hammer bat or sheer will..

Abuse is so strangling,it stays with you and on your inner -core for so long,it can lock you in a place where you find your self doubting your inner self or blaming your self for what is being forced upon you.

Its a hard pill to swallow when you have no feelings towards a parent but hate, I had none then but you know if he were here today I would forgive him, because for him to hurt my brothers and I like he did someone had to hurt him, and that’s how the cycle of abuse gets started and continued..

I didn’t think my brothers and I were abused until you step away from it and you get some reflection on what you went through.

We went through hell,it was a horrible childhood as far as him being in the picture,when he left you could see my brothers my mother all had a different vibe a different outlook that really put us in a healthier and more relaxed state.

When he was in the mix,I wasn’t able to be happy in my childhood until I was maybe 13

I think the abuse has still pretty much affected my older brother still to this day..

From ages 4-11 for me it was a daily barrage of physical and mental abuse,I felt I lived with a bully all my childhood,there were times I wanted to run away and disappear,but I could never leave my mother or brothers in that situation,I knew it would get better.

I came home one day from school and my mother and him were having a no holds barred fist fight, I ran to my room and got a baseball bat, I was about to crown him,but my mother whipped his ass and we were gone the next week.
‘Its probably one of the reasons I just could never commit to marriage.

I mean I have had some incredible strong beautiful  strong black women and I was madly in love with them, but you just get scared and you say to your self can I make it, not us, but me, and

I always said I wanted to get married once and forever.

As I got older I finally faced that issue, now I am totally open to be a husband.

I was never afraid of being abusive or following in that insane direction,my brothers have been marriage 12 and 20 years and so glad there was never any cycle of domestic violence..

My mother is the best person I have ever known in my life,but to see her in constant battle and pain was nothing I wanted to share, so as a kid, I was so detached, I didn’t have a ton of friends and I felt so isolated. I was this little person in so much pain and I had to really grow up so fast so quick.

You sing the song “Children Will Listen” From The Broadway show “Into the Woods”

Yes that song speaks to me its the deepest song I have ever heard when talking about a child who listens, it talks about what you put in a child’s head can affect them.I know it did me for a while.

“I was this kid in the corner hiding, but really saying look at me powerless and holding my breath, being scared to death”..

I went through my 20’s and 30’s and 40’s with I don’t give a shit about what had happened to me, its when relationships that should last and should still be here are gone, and you sit down and cry or don’t know where that pain is coming from.

Also I went through so many deaths in a 12 year period, my dad passed from AIDS

My mother was a serious cigarette smoker who even when she was diagnosed with cancer still smoked until there was no coming back from it.

Here you see your mother on life support and you have to make that decision to let her go with God…..  My grand mom, brother, cousin and 2 aunts would pass.

So you are dealing with the passing of people you love so much, and then you realize  I have to be real with this thing inside of me, this pain, and I did what I had seen my mother do all my life.

I got on my knees and asked God for forgiveness and prayed for a better day, a better way to face tomorrow.

Why would you ask for forgiveness?

I was harboring hate , and I didn’t allow my self to forgive that young person I was, I liked him, I just didn’t love him..

I was consistently told “You  aint shit”.will never be shit”, my father and step father hated each other, and I look just like my dad, so of course I got daggers thrown at me, and you feel so unprotected ,because at age 7-10 you are not equipped to have a response,to that venom that hate…..

The first to apologize is the bravest the first to forgive is the strongest and the first to forget is the happiest

I was pissed at Columbia for just not letting me out of my contract

Now I really love myself and with that you can really love other people so unconditionally without strings attached to it.

I am walking in total freedom, free to care and be held up and even admired by others.

I was getting these standing ovations and all this great notoriety and I was just oblivious to it, I just didn’t get it, or thought I was worth it.

I was called cocky and egoistical from critics and that wasn’t the case, its just that I was totally oblivious to it.I didn’t do an encore which I rarely still do.

I was called cocky and stuck up,which wasn’t the case.

I learned a long time ago while performing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem,when you have the crowd in the palms of your hands and the show is over you leave the stage.

Its nice when people still remember you and support you 25 years after you have been doing this thing called performing.

I have been a huge supporter for Toys For Tots for homeless or children affected by violence at the hands of parents and family.

I was that kid and I look in these kids eyes and i see that reflection,that pain it took me 30-35 years to face it and overcome it,but hopefully these kids will do the same much earlier than I did and know its not their fault……

Wilder was raised by his mother and his grand mother along with aunts and uncles. “Yeah, I  was in heaven,” he says impishly. “When we moved to my Grand Moms home.

“My grandfather strongly believed that nothing should stop a man from getting up and providing for his family,” he says. “He instilled that in me.The women who raised me I cant tell you how much they mean to me

I have always felt protective of the women in my family.”

“Also I meet a girl who till this day I judge every women I date too, she was my first love. you never forget them, Denise is her name and without her I don’t think I could really understand love and how it can come to you unconditionally,I was a rugged street kid and she cleaned me up and made me speak and act like a gentleman,she was the first person outside of my family to believe in me,and she gave me so much confidence so much focus you know if you have one person who believes n you, you really can change the world.”

Growing up in a Gospel singing family it would seem that such a practical grandparent wouldn’t look too kindly on pursuing such an uncertain profession as singing?

My family is most definite a Gospel singing and worshiping family.

My Uncle The Bishop Mitchell Hudson,my aunts are all Evangelist,my mother who could get on a microphone and sing with anyone in the world and is one of the best singers I have ever heard.

My family have also been forward thinking people, I grew up with people like Ben Vereen, Jocelyn Brown,Ronnie Dyson,JZay in my home.

So I grew up in a family where all music was all accepted,not just gospel.after I got my education I was allowed to pursue my goals…

He traveled the Southeast and Canada with The Apollo Theater Tour, and then really made a name that made him a solid draw in Montreal Quebec,

During a performance at the legendary jazz club UpStairs/DownStairs, he caught the attention of  Columbia Records. Soon after completing 14 songs for his first album, “Sounds From This Here Earth ,” Wilder would not give up the publishing to his songs, his album was put on the shelf and never released.

The touring years were up and down. His label would not release him unless they were paid $150.000, But Wilder got a huge break,he put together the band Weird Stories,which would take him around the world 3x and make him a huge draw in Jazz Venues around the world.

Promises of broader success drew him to Europe, where he recorded and wrote with people like Mica Paris and Amy Winehouse and Lynden David Hall.

 

 

Youman Wilder in London circa 2003

London became Wilder’s home for a year as he got more into the Underground Soul Music Sound and Scene.

“Those were the days when we really decided to push out that pop garbage, I was so happy to be around some talented people,” Wilder says.

The downside was the drugs that were happening in London at the time,it was the downfall of so many young and gifted singers,musicians and artist in general.

I was at so many parties where the cocaine and weed were flowing like it was water,and you had people absolutely high out their dam minds.

How did you avoid getting involved in that drug scene?

You know it wasn’t very hard at all, I am a strong willed person and I was older than most the people there and I had 5 years of being around people who did drugs and I  have seen drugs destroy people, good people, and there was never a time I wanted that kinda life.

Wilder’s 2 night run at the legendary club 606 stopped London in its tracks as he sold out and performed 2 nights that are still talked about till this day.

(Its is Known as The night British Soul Super Star  Craig David was destroyed that night by Wilder when the 2 shared a song onstage.) I hear Craig David does not like you very much?

(Wilder laughs)I don’t get into that kinda stuff, I come from singers and I was really fortunate to learn my craft from singers in New York in the 80s and 90’s there were places you could go and learn your craft with great musicians and great singers, those places don’t exist now.

But to be around stone cold talent every day was a blessing that I took in and learned the craft from those singers and artist.If you couldn’t or didn’t hold your own you were gonna be toast, so I learned really quick.

 

Whats the difference between the UK soul singer and the American Soul singer?

The Black Church of course, the UK singer listens to American R&B which is great, but there is no secret in the Black community, we all know the best singers are Gospel singers.

And the majority of  great singers come out of the Black Baptist or COGIC or Pentecostal Church so they bring the riffs and runs to the music and they come at music with a high standard of lyrics and message content.

There is no Pop, or Soul Singer who can deal with a Gospel singer.In my family I have aunts who would sing rings around me,and my mother use to come see me in some of my New York shows and after she wrecked my stage we had to take a 15 minute break, because there was no following her.

If you look at the great singers like Aretha, Sam Cooke, Whitney,Patti Labelle,Luther Vandross, Kelly Price there is a strong connection to the Black Church.

 

 

Wilder did find a kindred soul in The late Lynden David Hall

Lynden David Hall.Lynden David Hall.jpg

Lynden was an amazing person, he was kind and brilliant.

So talented and such a great artist,his death humbled me to my core.

(The south London-born singer – who won the 1998 Mobo best newcomer award – had been suffering from the rare cancer Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and died February of 2006

Amy would follow 5 years later in 2011 and so many others who were not well known.

I saw these young great artist just involved in heavy drugs use and these kids had all the trappings of money and drug connections.

It took so many creative people to their early  graves.

I loved my time in London, I was living with Mounia who was modeling in London and Italy at the time,we had a nice flat in Covent Gardens

We both wanted out of London, I needed New York and she craved Italy and Paris.

She is the person who the song “Harlem Rain” is about.

 

Mounia circa 2005 London

I had to say goodbye to London and headed back to New York

So he returned to New York and went into writing with young up and coming musicians like Jerome Brooks and Fenly,it was great because they were coming from a street type of experience and I was coming at it with a more jazz, funk approach.

Two years passed and still nagging Columbia to released him “Wilder wanted to move into a more Neo-Soul groove type of movement with Weird Stories.

“Personalities were moving all over the place , which is fine.

One thing I can say we all got along and there were no ego’s to be fixed, you spend 5 years with people and people wanted to grow, also the touring was just too much. I remember being in 4 countries in a course of 6 days”

We had a great following in the UK and did some great music over there.

I had the right people behind me that helped me reach that level of being creative.

“The Storie forced me to understand music, not just my voice in the music , but the small sound, the sound that makes words mean something and a groove stay with you 3 days after you heard it”

That desire could explain why Wilder is popping up in unlikely places.

He is set to do sets at Irving Plaza and will do sets at The Black Rock Coalition in the East Village. At 53 he is now seen as the veteran he has turned himself into a Living Local Legendary Singer.

“Music is a universal thing,” he adds. “I should be able to sing anything to anyone any where, I can sing a black torch song, a movie soundtrack for an animation and turn around and do straight Rodgers and Hammerstein with a 90-piece orchestra.”

I have never limited my sound or my musical taste, because its so eclectic.

I am a fan of song writers not just singers,my taste range from Aretha Franklin to Vladimir Horowitz to B.B King to the Flatbush Zomies. or Kendrick Lamar or J.Cole  and everything in between.

I just was listening to some music by Judy Collins who is a folk singer and then I was banging some Ledisi and LaLa Hathaway right after.

There are a couple of new artist I really am enjoying,Topaz Jones really is someone I hope people get a chance to support. I really like this kid Avery Wilson who has one of those once in a lifetime voices, along with Jasmine Sullivan who is the future of R&B.

Hearing you out sing and destroy some young singers in a mic flip at Summer Stage at Central Park this summer was really impressive?

“I have taken care of my self, I have never done drugs or smoked or done things that effect my body or my voice, I think I understand the warmth of my voice and the rage and range I have in my voice and my song writing.

I am a radical kinda underground non conformist singer and writer I don’t apologize for it.

I am an artist I am ferociously tied and connected and committed to stay a free artist.I don’t write about foolish bullshit, that I don’t and will never have.

The song  Many Rivers( The Crossing) That song is my favorite you have ever written,you can see the Gospel influence in the song and you did all the lead and background vocals and it sounds amazing what is it about?

Its about African People and how they crossed that Atlantic Ocean in slave bondage knowing they would never see family again.Its a really tricky song because its got that mid tempo kinda funk thing happening and if you don’t listen to the lyrics the beat can kinda take you and lead you away from the message, but I am glad you got the message.

 

The song Brown,Black and Beautiful is that 70’s groove, you write a lot about Black Women in your music?

 

‘Yes I do always have always will, black women are seen as an after thought in so many ways.the portrayal of a black women is some fat woman with 5 kids and on welfare.

Black men don’t protect black women any more, so many have turned their backs on sisters,we have abandoned these sisters to raise kids alone, and we have been abusive and helped destroy that strong black on black relationship with that women.

Brothers will love their moms who gave them life but will run away from that sister who is smart educated and a real Queen,so I write about them because I love everything about a Black Woman.”

How do you like the music business today”

The music business of today is well you really have to be a slave to mediocrity,and you have to sellout your music and your community to help promote nothingness.

I listen to music coming from the my community and its just so dam bad,I mean when I was growing up to lip-synch was like an abomination,now we give these studio artist a place now.

I was recently in a recording studio with an up and coming producer who actually had some hit records under him.

The kid knew nothing about music, he knew how to program music he couldn’t tell you the difference between an E flat or G minor.They make beats and then say they are musicians.no they are computer programmers.

I write about race,love,life and humanity, I have no interest in shaking my ass and lip-syncing my way to stardom I make music I sing songs with melodies and lyrics that say something.

There is nothing wrong with putting on a great show,but it has to be live and real.

I wanna hear you breath and want to hear you move me with your artistry not with technology.

You are known for having a great singing voice who is one of those great visual entertainers,how did you become such a great performer?

Part church, Preachers are great showmen, then i had James Brown, Prince, Michael Jackson,Patti Labelle,Al Green,Elton John, people I had to learn from, one was a friend of mine who passed Nick Jones who bought that gospel and theatrics to his shows. I paid attention a took from here and there, also New York audiences you have to have your set together.Also there is just a joy to perform.

Aretha or Beyoncé which one does something for you?

Beyoncé is great, I see her as someone who is being an artist first, she creates great shows and artistic imagery  and you have to love that.

Aretha changed the game she came around in a time when girl groups were all the rage and said I am gonna stand here with the boys and you will follow me and they did.

Also vocally no one is in her class,you listen to that voice and you say how did she hit this C  and C4 then she is going into a baritone riff running up the scales like look how easy this is, when as a singer you know its not.

Her vocal diversity is what sets her apart, from singing with Trios in the 60’s  to getting with Hip-Hop producers and making million selling records for that generation in the late 90s,so she has been the standard of what is a great voice and she stands on her Throne and no one is even close.so it would be Aretha Franklin

 

What do you think of the young singers you see coming up?

Well its a different animal out here today,I think the singers are least diverse and not versatile at all.

Its kinda of less interesting,kinda hearing the same type voices no variety and no originality.

But there are some young vocal beast out here who I feel will take the sound of the streets and bring it to the forefront,its always what is happening in the streets that makes the music strong…

When young kids ask me what to do I say write your own songs or find a song writer and introduce his or her songs.

When I started in The 80’s you had to know Jazz,Blues R&B and Old School.

I was lucky to work with Gerald Austin of the Manhattans and Boz Shaggs and Prince and Chaka Khan.to name a few.

And the Jazz community was so welcoming to me Nancy Wilson,Carl Anderson,Al Jarreau,

If you wanted to eat you had better know how to sing different styles of music…

I have been blessed I have been able to make not just a living but a life out of making music and everyday I thank God for that.

You took some time off due to a stroke,and you could barely talk let alone sing for over a year?

Yes that was 2011 and I was just so scared, I am not the kinda person who gets really sick,I mean besides the flu or nagging lil things but I was at the hospital and they just thought it was a flu so they gave me some over the counter medicine.

3 days later I still couldn’t eat and couldn’t swallow, I would swallow and it was so painful.

When I went to a specialist they saw that I had a small stroke and it really attacked my vocal chords.

Once I got the proper diagnoses and proper medicine I was able to slowly pull my voice back together.

I went to a doctor who told me I may not be able to sing again.

“I wasn’t freaked out but I was like let ‘s just swallow first and I could find what my voice could be”

It took maybe 8 months just to get my speaking voice back to normal,my singing voice was tragic, it was like my voice was in a gravel,it wasn’t clear and I had no range no lift at all.

Its like I was use to dunking and now I couldn’t do it,no flight.

So I had to study and learn how to sing and get the tone and flexibility back.my technique is way better,but I know my voice is different the Middle C is still there the High C I still need to work for, but I am glad that the voice is returning.

I do a ton of Opera vocal warm ups and they challenge me so I am on the right path

Wilder is on the right path as he will perform in South Hampton the next night

For the Tunes For Tots that will raise funds for Inner-City kids.

I have never nor will ever forget where I come from in Brooklyn’s Bedford- Stuyvesant enclave, or the people who raised me and loved me and till this day would do anything for me.

Wilder kills when he takes the stage and turns his 45 minute set into a Rock and Soul Gospel Revival throw-down, that ends in a standing ovation from the Upper Super Rich Southampton crowd that helped raise over $100,000

As we finish up our interview a young musician comes over and ask for a picture with Wilder, the two men smile and after the picture is taken

“Wilder says I smile now, see I told you I really like that Youman Wilder now”

“You never know what you can go through until you have no other choice”

The reason I can fight and survive is because of what the streets of Brooklyn taught me…

And that little Youman Wilder he was a tough little kid from Brooklyn, he was kind and he was just 9 or 10 years old and in so much pain,but he never gave up on seeing a better day and he saved me…

He saved him to make him a local music legend that is a New York City treasure..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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