Noah Stewart has built on the successes of his mentor Leontyne Price, Sir Willard White and Jessye Norman to become the first black musician to peak on the British classical chart. With his debut album, the 33-year-old Harlem born tenor has blazed a trail.
But he is more than a novelty. His rich voice has resonance and commands attention captivating the ear and the emotion as exemplified by the stirring Without a Song.
Inspired by Mario Lanza, the tenor who became a Hollywood movie star, and with arrangement from producers Steven Baker and Christian Seitz, the album includes operatic arias such as Recondita armonia from Puccini’s Tosca. On Pourquoi me Reveiller, from Massenet’s Werther, Stewart’s voice really shines.
But the album also includes the spiritual classic Deep River, and traditional standards such as Amazing Grace and Silent Night. Though he did not grow up singing gospel, Stewart’s voice hints at the blues/jazz scene associated with his New Orleans heritage.
His road to riches story includes study at LaGuardia High School where he developed his craft providing back up vocals for artists such as Hootie & the Blowfish, Mariah Carey and rapper Coolio. A scholarship led to further study at the prestigious Julliard School, and his debut album demonstrates the resulting seasoned vocal.
It seems ironic that while working as a receptionist at Carnegie Hall Stewart was advised against humming, but such a voice cannot remain silenced for long; indeed audiences are demanding to hear it live and recorded.
Stewart’s charming and sophisticated image help to sell a genre to new audiences. His humble beginnings make him relatable and the accessibility extends to the album and facilitates his mass appeal. The warmth of his tone means that his version of Leonard Cohen’s much-recorded Hallelujah sounds fresh.
Having performed around the world in roles such as Cavaradossi (Tosca), Don José (Carmen), Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Rodolfo (La bohème), Stewart has established a reputation in the classical world. But on this album, the expressive power of his voice can convince new audiences that his talent is no act.
Noah is out now on Decca Records. Noah Stewart plays the Union Chapel on 22 May.