Wendell Simpkins: Sharing the Gift of Music Across the Waves | Sunday clothes
Attending South Aiken High School’s group program in the late 1990s took Wendell Simpkins to various locations across the state.
A generation later, USC graduate Aiken is a little further away – over 4,000 miles northeast and across the Atlantic, stopping just south of Switzerland.
The professional singer hangs his hat in northern Italy, with Milan as his base of operations. He is found specifically in Piazza Loreto, where he conducts choirs and groups and shares musical messages in styles such as gospel, jazz, pop and R&B.
“I want to be positive, share positive vibes and love myself… despite the mistakes, despite what has happened in the past. I want to move on, forgive and love in this place in my life,” he said.
His first loud standing ovation was from a decidedly local crowd at East Aiken Elementary School in the late 1980s.
“I sang ‘The Greatest Love of All’ by Whitney Houston,” he said, recalling that his teacher was “Mrs. Coakley”.
The result apparently came as a surprise to everyone involved. “It was an awards show, but they had no talent that night, and she just suggested I sing that night, and I did. I had never sung. of my life, until then …
“We were in music class, and she came over to me and asked me. There were a few songs she wanted me to sing, and all three were by Whitney Houston, and I chose ‘Most great love of all, ‘and it happened that night, “said the future Milanese, who then bore his middle name – Torrey -.
“I didn’t even know how to bow out that night, until she said to me, on the side of the stage, ‘Take a bow, take a bow, take a bow,’ and I did. did, and the audience even went crazy when I bowed, so I was like, ‘Maybe that can happen.’ “
It happened, and some of the results can be seen on YouTube, with creations such as “Pastime Paradise”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and a mix of evangelical standards.
Among those who followed her development into adulthood was Sandra Field, now a retired music teacher at USC Aiken, widely known as the director of Joye at Aiken, the annual music festival. .
“Wendell was an esteemed singer and section leader in the University Concert Choir, Acappella Choir and Masterworks Chorale,” she wrote, noting that he also conducted Voices of Praise, the university’s gospel choir.
The best of Wendell Simpkins
The Faculty of Fine Arts “has supported and encouraged Wendell throughout his tenure,” she added. “His love of singing and his commitment to his art made it clear that he would pursue a professional career as a singer. He worked hard to develop the skills and confidence necessary for such a pursuit. he was accepted into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York after graduating in 2002 and followed his successful career with great pride. “
USCA drama professor Dewey Scott Wiley made similar comments, recalling that Simpkins, as a senior, appeared in the University Theater production of the musical “Working”.
Simpkins “was an absolute natural on stage,” Wiley wrote. “I was delighted to hear that he would be continuing his performance studies in New York after graduation. Torrey has a magnetic and inviting heat.”
Former Drum Major Thoroughbred, the oldest of four born siblings to Wendell Moore and Joann Odom, has returned to Aiken in recent weeks, responding to a death in his extended family. He plans to hit the road again on July 14 to return to Lombardy, where his roles include that of owner / director of Toreyt Entertainment – “a company committed to bringing purity back to the entertainment industry,” as reported. on one of Simpkin’s web pages. .
“Our services include, but are not limited to, booking concerts, artist / brand development, musical / theatrical workshops and recording,” he also notes.
The route to Italy came through Simpkins’ tour with the Harlem Gospel Choir, New York, through which Simpkins met Anthony Morgan, a choir member who branched out and started his own group. Simpkins became the director of Morgan’s choir and their trip took them to Italy, for the Roma Gospel Festival, where Simpkins sang “The Prayer” in Italian.
Years of going back and forth over the Atlantic presented a pretty tough financial challenge, so when Simpkins received an offer to stay on the east side of the ocean, he agreed.
Simpkins learned the language and now does business in Italian, for the most part, “unless you have … people who want to try to improve their English skills and speak to you in English”.
“Everyone loved and respected him,” said former Thoroughbred band director Everette “Sparky” Noel, who has guided the program through Simpkins’ years in South Aiken.
Noel first got to know Simpkins as a clarinetist, then more specifically as a bass clarinetist, honing his skills to the point of gaining the recognition of all states.
Simpkins’ level of talent was not immediately evident but was revealed soon enough, he added. “After spending a few years with me, he really took off in 11th grade.”
Noel noted that the group, at the time, faced – successfully – very difficult music, including creations by masters such as Bach, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Handel and Verdi.
Today, Tchaikovsky remains one of Simpkins’ sources of musical inspiration. “I don’t know why. I love his rhythm and movement… As for a singer, I would definitely say Andrea Bocelli, and I’m also a huge fan of R&B singer Eric Benet,” he said. he declares.
Reading books and “watching horror movies, believe it or not” are some of his favorite things to do, he added. “I love to sit down, relax and listen to music.”
Once back in Italy, he plans to return to his usual job. “I’ll be a vocal coach. My choir won’t resume until September, so I’ll be a vocal coach and perform.”
His years at USCA included the successful pursuit of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Music), with a minor in Business Administration. Business skills come in handy as Simpkins earns a living in the home country of Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti.
“I studied classical music for four years. At the moment, as a vocal coach, I mainly focus on pop training, but I also do lyric training. In Italy, they prefer more pop training there- down. I don’t know why. ”
He works from home, gives private lessons, and also has a part-time job with Alchemia Advanced Music Lab, outside of Milan.
“On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a member of a quartet when he was young, and my uncle on my father’s side … was also a singer, but I don’t know how professional he was,” said said Simpkins. .
Simpkins’ level of professionalism, however, is stellar, according to the assessment of Jack Benjamin, a retiree whose roles included director of the Etherredge Center and chairman of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at USCA.
Benjamin and his wife, Kathy, “had the privilege of meeting Wendell for the first time while he and our children were in the South Aiken High School group,” Benjamin wrote.
“The young man we met then continued his academic career with us at USC Aiken. Over the years, Wendell has imparted the finest qualities of commitment and collegiality. I have only met a few students at throughout my career in higher education that were equal to the standards Wendell set for himself and those around him. “