A quick Google search will turn up two Sidney Outlaws. One, known as “Da Gun,” is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter and the #12 ranked Pro Men’s Welterweight in the Northeast U.S. The other one is Sidney Outlaw, baritone, lauded by The New York Times as a “terrific singer” and by the San Francisco Chronicle as “an opera powerhouse.” “As far as I know, we’re not related and we’ve never met each other,” says the singer. “But we do get emails and Facebook messages from people looking for the other one of us.”
The family name derives from the Scottish Outler and was Americanized to Outlaw, which was the name of the slave owner who took one of his slaves as a mistress and produced Sidney’s great-great-great grandfather. “This was in Wrightsville, in central Georgia, where loads of people are named Outlaw. But my paternal grandparents moved up to North Carolina during the Great Migration to work in the paper mills, and that’s where I grew up, in Brevard.”
Sidney credits his mother’s side, almost all of whom have perfect pitch and who traveled in a gospel group called the Smith Singers, with his musical talent. “I love my voice. I am in love with it, like a musician will be in love with a beautiful instrument that he owns. My voice is a gift from God; my responsibility is to take care of it and to learn to play it correctly, just like someone who owns a beautiful cello. He happily carries it around on his back and doesn’t mind buying an extra plane ticket for it.”
Sidney studied voice while still in high school and entered the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. “There, I came under the wing of mezzo-soprano and music professor Levone Tobin Scott, who became my Yoda. She taught me how to sing, how to walk, how to be curious about music and to preserve my voice.” Later, at Juilliard, as his voice started to settle in, it rose from bass to baritone. “I was so lucky to have only good teachers. They never pushed me, which is why my voice purrs now: it has never been in distress.”
Singing in HD and 3D
“Brahms’s musical world fits me like a glove, both when I sang bass and now as a baritone. I am lucky to have performed the Requiem under the direction of Christopher Johnson at the Riverside Church, where I have sung with the choir for 12 years. The thickness, the density of the orchestration: it means that as a singer you have to sing on the core of your voice, on your breath. It adds presence and it helps make your voice HD and 3D—high definition and three-dimensional.”
Performing and beyond
Sidney Outlaw knows that a singing and opera career requires complete dedication, but also that it is finite. “I want to sing as long as I can do so at the top of my game, but I don’t want to hang on any longer than that.” Luckily for him, he has many interests beyond performing and already teaches voice at Queens College. “My students there have fewer opportunities than what I and my classmates have had at Juilliard. So I pass on to them what I have been privileged to learn. I refer them to top voice teachers and coaches at Mannes, Julliard, and the Manhattan School of Music who will often work with them at a discount. And when I see interesting ads or posters at Lincoln Center inviting singers to apply for a fellowship here, an audition there, I take photos, print them out and hang them on my office door in Queens, where there are fewer of those notices. My students have to do the work, but I feel I need to level the playing field a little.”
Sidney also has dipped his toe into cultural diplomacy. Four years ago he performed in Guinea, West Africa, under the auspices of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s State Department. And at the end of May, Sidney will travel to Moscow to perform at the U.S. Embassy there as part of a four-city tour which will also include Kaliningrad, Ryazan, and Voronezh. “I am very excited to represent my country and use the arts as a means of diplomacy. We will be singing a selection of Gershwin songs and I will also sing the part of Jake in selections from Porgy and Bess. Do I resent being ‘typecast,’ as it were, in a black musical? Perhaps I might have when I first started out. But by now I have sung Figaro, Don Giovanni, Demetrius, and Papageno. I have sung in Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, Avery Fisher Hall, and the English National Opera. So I can enjoy singing Jake. He is where I come from. He’s a part of who I am.”
BIOGRAPHY, SIDNEY OUTLAW
Lauded by The New York Times as a “terrific singer” with a “deep, rich timbre” and the San Francisco Chronicle as an “opera powerhouse” with a “weighty and forthright” sound, Sidney Outlaw was the Grand Prize winner of the Concurso Internacional de Canto Montserrat Caballe in 2010 and continues to delight audiences in the United States and abroad with his rich and versatile baritone and engaging stage presence. A graduate of the Merola Opera Program and the Gerdine Young Artist Program at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, this rising American baritone from Brevard, North Carolina, recently added a GRAMMY nomination to his list of accomplishments, for the Naxos Records recording of Darius Milhaud’s 1922 opera trilogy L’Orestie d’Eschyle, in which he sang the role of Apollo. Last season for Mr. Outlaw included the role of Dandini in La Cenerentola with Greensboro Opera, appearances with the Charlotte Symphony, the Bridgehampton Chamber Music and Colour of Music Festivals, his Spoleto Festival debut as Jake in Porgy and Bess, and Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park. The 2016-2017 season includes Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette with Madison Opera and Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Outlaw has been a featured recitalist with Warren Jones at Carnegie Hall and abroad. He performed his Carnegie Hall debut as Elijah with the Oratorio Society of New York. He traveled to Guinea as an Arts Envoy with the U.S. State Department, where he performed a program of American music in honor of Black History Month and in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In May 2017 he will travel to Russia, again as an Arts Envoy with the U. S. State Department.
For more information on Sidney Outlaw’s career and to hear excerpts from his performances, visit www.sidneyoutlaw.com.