Tag Archives: singing

Pitch Poet

June 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She sets up on a bustling Old Market corner. The footpaths jostle with tourists and locals doing their weekend shopping, dining,
and sightseeing.

Jocelyn Muhammad pulls the acoustic guitar slung over her back then slowly strums a chord that rings throughout the heart of the old-timey business district.

She massages sweet melodies from her guitar, but it’s not until the baby-faced, curly-haired 19-year-old songstress adds her silvery vocals that passersby stop to admire her. No one could escape her charm.

“I want to feel the breeze through my hair, through my hair,” she sings. “I want to go somewhere. I want to be someone. I want to fall in love just like everybody else.”

Muhammad’s voice flows freely at her top notes, pleasantly vibrating eardrums. She’s a showstopper—and a guitar-wielding poet of sorts.

A young musician relatively new to Omaha’s music scene, Muhammad’s voice has a textured, lived-in quality. Perhaps that’s her appeal. Caught off guard, spectators pause to hear her old-soul poetic lyrics and heart-on-her-sleeve folkie romantic songs, which are totally unexpected from such a young, jovial person.

Muhammad is a promising singer-songwriter who has already attracted an incredibly large social media following and the attention of the music industry.

A live, buzzworthy video snippet of her song “Just Like Everybody Else” recently went viral to the tune of almost 5 million plays on YouTube, even before the studio version was released in November. The 23-second clip, filmed on a few cellphone cameras, features Muhammad belting out the chorus of her song.

Taken aback, she was surprised her song reached people from as far away as Russia. It was a humbling experience, says the recent Millard South graduate. In fact, one fan wrote a song in
honor of her.

Songwriting is such an intimate practice and the truest form of flattery, she says. “It’s the idea of singing a song that you wrote about someone. The way they make you feel. And you get to put it to a melody and add words.”

Social-media savvy Muhammad stays connected with her fans through her music blog (jocelynmusic.com), YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. She documents her musical journey, taking fans along the quirky moments in studio sessions to interviews with the media.

Aside from hearing her from-the-heart work on Old Market street corners, fans catch her at open mic nights around town. She sings a mix of original melodies and covers about love and loss, loneliness and desperation, and pleas to find her soul mate. Under her musical belt, per se, she’s performed at open mic sessions at the legendary Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer to finish piecing together her first record.

Muhammad got her music start at age 14. Though she participated in school choir, her happenstance of guitar picking came later when she rescued a black Indiana acoustic guitar dubbed “Black Bastard” from the flames of a friend’s bonfire.

She took it home and cleaned it up. She studied her favorite British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s likes and dislikes. His musical preferences and tendencies influenced her own.

A friend taught her the fundamentals of guitar strumming—how to play a G on Cadd9 chord. Two weeks later, she wrote her first song, “Burn It Down.”

She couldn’t bottle up her newfound love for songwriting and guitar playing. So, she packed up her guitar and headed for the Old Market.

A few months later, she says she was introduced to Aly Peeler, who, at the time, was in charge of an open mic night for the then-Side Door lounge. Soon after, she met her current manager, Jeff McClain of Midlands Music Group, who offered her a placement in the group’s free mentoring program for budding musicians.

Muhammad is grateful that she has Peeler and McClain as soundboards to help her polish her melodies and lyrics. Still honing her skills, she says she owes Peeler and McClain for helping develop her talent through many lessons and repetitive exercises, which prepared her to perform live.

“I’m not going to let a melody be just a melody,” she says. “It has to be the right one. I’m practicing constantly…working to get better.”

When she’s performing on stage, Muhammad says, “It’s just me. It’s just me there, singing to you. There’s nothing else … no one else. Just me and you. And, I’m singing.”

Muhammad has been nominated three times for Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards’ best singer-songwriter, but has yet to take home the hardware.

“I’m, like, the youngest artist there…so that’s really cool,” she says. “I’m still working on winning though. I’ll get there someday, but it’s cool just to be nominated.” 

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This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad

August 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.

Since coming out a few years ago, Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad have been known as “the gay siblings.” But as a LGBT Nebraskans profile put it: “That’s one of the least interesting things about them.”

Jocelyn’s a promising singer-songwriter with an old-soul spirit. A May graduate of Millard South, where she was named prom princess, she can be found performing her sweet-sad love tunes on Old Market street corners and at open mic nights around town. Her from-the-heart work, some featured in YouTube videos, has attracted the attention of the music industry. She recently sang during open mic sessions at the legendary Whiskey a Go-Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer.

Her goal is to write hit records. She’s currently creating songs for what she hopes is her debut album on a major label.

Deven has been selected as a touring performing artist with The Young Americans, a nonprofit group founded 50 years ago to promote understanding and goodwill through the arts. The charismatic junior-to-be at Midland University in Fremont recently helped his school’s competitive dance team win two national titles with his dynamic hip hop, jazz, and pompom routines.

In high school he starred in musical theater before becoming the first male dance team member and being voted Mr. Millard South. At Midland he was crowned Freshman Homecoming Prince.

These creatives fiercely support their individual expressions and dimensions. For a long time it was Deven who sang and Jocelyn who danced. As kids they became determined to swap lives.

“What I love about us is that I know she’s the singer of the family and she knows I’m the dancer…and we kind of leave it as is,” Deven says. ”We do our own thing, we have our own thing, so we don’t get jealous of each other. But we also love to share what we’re doing.”

The siblings not only identify as gay, but also Caucasian, African-American, and Chinese. They have encountered racism, both subtle and overt. Through everything, including a childhood when their father wasn’t around much and they made do with less than their friends, these two have been simpatico. Of course, the siblings also sometimes stole each other’s clothes.

“We feed off each other and we respect one another,” Jocelyn says. “We’ve always had each other. We have this bond. He’s always pushed me. He’s very real, very blunt. He’ll tell you what’s up.”

Though brutally honest about her first vocalizing attempts, he worked with her. Most of all, he reminded her they come from a loving family that supports whatever interest any member follows.

“He showed me there’s no such thing as trying,” she continues. “You do it or you don’t do it. That’s what he’s done with his dancing. He’s very inspiring. I look up to him a lot.”

Tough love is necessary if you expect to get better, Deven says. “That’s why I’m hard on her on some things and that’s why people are hard on me. I love being pushed, I love reaching for a new goal.”

Though not surprised by Jocelyn’s success, he’s impressed by how far his little sister has come since picking up the guitar less than three years ago.

“She’s growing up really fast. She holds herself very well. She’s different every time I listen to her. It’s literally a whole new voice. Jocelyn is making strides like it’s nobody’s business. She’s doing what she feels she needs to do to succeed.”

Jocelyn has surrounded herself with veteran musicians who’ve taught her stagecraft and the business side of music. She considers the defunct Side Door Lounge, where she played extensively, “the best schooling I’ve ever had in my life,” adding, “Just being there experiencing everything, meeting musicians, having jam sessions—that one venue changed the rest of my life.”

Deven’s refined his own craft through dance camps and workshops.

“I know if I want something in life I have to work for it,” he says. “I love that the things I have are because I worked my ass off for it. I’m very appreciative of what I have. That’s really shaped who I am.”

As life’s grown more hectic between rehearsals, school, and work, the release that comes in dance, he says, is more precious than ever.

“It kind of makes me forget about everything going on in life,” he says. “It’s the one thing I love to do.”

When the vibe’s just right during a set, Jocelyn gets lost in the music, deep inside herself, connecting with the audience.

“It just makes you feel your highest self,” she says. Jocelyn feels the chances coming her way are, “happening for a reason. You create your own destiny and your own luck.”

Muhammads

Memory Lane

June 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus.

The way Joe Taylor became “Mr. Memories” sounds a little like a scene from a movie.
One afternoon in the spring of 1994, he was working in the Council Bluffs thrift store he’d owned for many years. In walked a woman who would change his life forever.
She was a special education teacher planning an event for 300 students and her entertainment had fallen through. “Heck, I can come down and do a show that will fill in about 30 minutes for you,” Joe offered.
That might sound a little crazy, but this wasn’t Joe’s first time on a stage. In fact, you might say he’s a born performer. As a kid, growing up in 1930s and ‘40s, he’d climb on a bench in the backyard of his family home and pretend he was on stage. Later, as a teenager, his older brother and sister would take turns driving him to resorts in the Catskill Mountains where he’d sing with the
house bands.
He always dreamed of making it big as a singer, but life had other plans. He met and married his wife of nearly 60 years, Jan, and they started a family. Joe’s musical ambitions took a back seat to the responsibilities of being a husband and father.
Then, on April 28, 1994, after a near-40-year hiatus, Joe put on a tux, dusted off his singing voice and became “Mr. Memories.” He sang the songs of his heyday—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the like—and by the end of the month he’d booked three more shows. During his third performance, a hat was passed around and, at the end of the show, there was 31 dollars inside.
“I went home and told Jan ‘They paid me!’ and I’ve been singing ever since,” he says with a chuckle.
Soon he was making more money performing than he ever had operating the thrift store, so in 1996, he sold it and became a full-time entertainer. Today, he books from 10 to 20 shows a month—for the elderly and disabled, corporate events, birthday parties, weddings, and more. He gets paid for doing what he loves and it can be incredibly rewarding.
Once during a performance at a retirement center, Joe remembers a woman sitting in the front row who looked thoroughly unentertained throughout the show. But then, afterward, something surprising happened. She came up to him and, with a tear in her eye, said, “Thank you for helping me remember that I was young once.”
“You can’t put a price on that,” he says.
Another woman hired him to sing at her birthday party every year from the time she turned 102. She lived to be 108.
“Every year she’d say, ‘See you next year, Joe!’” he laughs. “I was starting to think she’d outlive me!”
Hanging in his home, among photos of him performing at various venues, is a cartoon drawing of Mr. Memories being trailed by three little old ladies with cartoon hearts floating above their heads. He loves every minute of it.
“If you love what you’re doing,” he says, “you never work another day in your life.”

MrMemories2

Joanna Kingsbury

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Rogue Icons

Originally published in March/April Encounter.

Joanna Kingsbury, a resident of Omaha for the past three years, has dipped her toes into many creative fields: acting, singing, dancing, and DJ-ing. She recently completed a role as Sarah Trecek, the conservative girlfriend of the main character in the local, independent film, Flyover Country.

But now she seeks to add another line to her resume: Air Force enlistee.

On Jan. 5, Kingsbury took a break from singing, acting, dancing, etc., to train in aerospace physiology in the United States Air Force for the next four years. It’s a career move that seems crazy to most, but on a dreary winter  morning, Kingsbury is eager to explain why it’s a perfect fit for her.

“I love being a contradiction so much,” Kingsbury says with a grin.

While an acting career didn’t pique her interest until high school, she’s always felt at home in the arts. One of six children, Kingsbury hails from a naturally creative family in the Chicago suburbs.

“We’re the kind of family that when we get together, we always do a talent show and do like handstand competitions,” says Kingsbury. “We’re kind of just a goofy, crazy artistic family.”

It’s also family that brought Kingsbury out to Omaha in the first place. Kingsbury’s older brother, also a member of the Air Force and a DJ, lived in Omaha alongside other military members with an interest in the arts. Kingsbury visited her brother’s house in 2010, and was surprised to discover a vibrant underground arts scene in this so-called flyover country.

“I was just like, man, it seems fun in Omaha. My brother’s DJ-ing, they’re doing all these gigs, and he has all of these friends that are doing all of these really cool things,” says Kingsbury.

A year later, Kingsbury decided to take a leap of faith, move out to Omaha from Chicago, and hit the ground running. She joined acting groups on Facebook, formed a cover duet band with a man she met on Craigslist, and eventually landed her role in Flyover Country. 

The film, which examines the friendship between main characters straight Russ and gay Todd, didn’t just conveniently land in Kingsbury’s lap. Although she “blew” her audition for the role of Sarah the first time, the director and producer saw that Kingsbury was passionate about the project, and encouraged her to try out for a second time.

This vote of confidence didn’t keep Kingsbury from being plagued with doubts during filming. It was her first time playing a speaking character on film, a character who was saying “some of the worst things ever” about the LGBT community.  But Kingsbury tried to focus on the fun, rather than the fears, that came with stepping outside of her comfort zone. “I love to push myself,” she says.

Thus, whether it’s DJ-ing late into the night at a club or modeling for pin-up magazines, Kingsbury is enjoying her wild ride. Her journey is about to get even tougher over the next four years, as she will be serving her country among the nation’s finest.

But Kingsbury is adamant that being in the Air Force, where discipline and perseverance are championed, will make her a better actress and singer. Her goal is to make the Air Force Choir, and naturally, she is relishing her unorthodox route.

“I know it sounds totally ludicrous to anyone that wouldn’t be in the military, but you can be in the military and you can pursue artistic things,” says Kingsbury.

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Kathy Tyree Channeling Her Inner Diva

February 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The term “diva” has taken a bit of a hit in recent years, suggesting to some a haughty I-want-it-all-and-want-it-now scene chewer who treats other humans like varmints.

For most, though, the word remains untarnished. The diva is still the shining star, the bigger-than-life glory who commands a room while displaying elegance and charity beyond the bright lights.

Kathy Tyree is most certainly the latter type of diva.

So, too, was Ella Fitzgerald, the legendary jazz diva who Tyree will shape-shift into for Ella, which opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on February 28.

“Ella Fitzgerald was every bit the good diva, a marvelous performer,” Tyree says during an interview at a mid-town coffee shop. “My job is to channel my inner diva. But I think I’ve earned my diva stripes. It’s an immense challenge, but I feel I’m up to the challenge.”

“She brought the house down in Hairspray. She’s going to bring the house down again.”
— Susie Collins

Tyree has more than earned those stripes in 30-some years of powerhouse singing throughout the region. She is arguably Omaha’s premier cabaret singer. Among numerous other roles, she played Aretha Franklin in Beehive, widely considered the longest-running show in the city’s history.

That show’s director, Gordon Cantiello, says he’s confident that Tyree is “by all means a big-time diva in the good way.

“The other girls in Beehive had to work hard to keep up with her,” Cantiello says. “She commands a room. She’s 110 percent all the time. She’s a director’s dream.”

Susie Collins, who will be directing Ella, agrees and adds that Tyree “has a very special, powerful way of expressing herself through her music.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her. There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”
—Kathy Tyree

And yes, she said, Tyree can command a room like a true diva. She did just that in a Playhouse production last summer. “She brought the house down in Hairspray,” Collins continues. “She’s going to bring the house down again.”

Ella is a new challenge for Tyree in that, for one, “there are an immense number of lines to learn.” The one-woman musical is “a very honest and open look at her life.” The musical goes far beyond the music.

Set in Nice, France, in 1966, Fitzgerald’s manager suggests she engage in more banter with her audience—a fashion for singers at the time. Her conversations on and off the stage through the musical increasingly delve into deeply personal topics, including the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands 
of her stepfather.

“In shows like this you can get a script that’s kind of glued in there—that’s very forced,” Collins explains. “You have a very skilled playwright here [Jeffrey Hatcher]. The script is just excellent.”

“It actually goes deeper than the biographies that have been written about her,” Tyree says. “There are just some topics you didn’t talk about back then that are discussed more openly now.”

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At the show’s heart, though, is the music and the larger-than-life voice and presence of the diva.

“The diva develops her own style out of her own personality,” Tyree says. “Ella Fitzgerald was uniquely Ella. A diva is the only person who sounds the way they do. You know immediately who is singing when you hear the voice.”

Tyree has built her own personal style from many influences. In some cases, she’s standing on some unlikely shoulders.

You might guess she was first inspired by the towering voices and personalities of Diana Ross and Lena Horne. Aretha Franklin, sure. Cher, who Tyree loves for her versatility. Luther Vandross. So smooth.

But Mick Jagger? Really?

“He’s always going—so passionate,” she says. “I love what he does with a song.”

And Rod Stewart?

“I love performers who are sincere and real,” she says. “That passion is authentic.”

Ella Fitzgerald, she says, was one of those sincere, genuine, authentic, and passionate singers who brought her best each night to her performance and her audience.

That’s what Tyree wants for every second she spends on stage as Ella Fitzgerald.

“I’d like to think I have my own style, so it’s interesting to work to channel Ella Fitzgerald—try to take on her unique style,” Tyree says. “What’s not at all different is that burning desire to give the audience everything you have. Ultimately, a diva wants to give the audience something to remember. So we’re going to work to give the audience something to remember.”

Hitting the High Cs

October 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Aetherplough, and Scott Bookman

The winter solstice seems the ideal date for a mittens-and-music caroling party. However, when the Aethertones gather for a performance in the Old Market Passageway on December 21st, expect a decidedly “anti-caroling” caroling event.

The musical ensemble is an offshoot of the performance company Aetherplough and, like a certain team of eight tiny reindeer, they do their thing for only one magical evening each year. At press time, this year’s playlist was still double-super-secret, but the repertoire from previous Contemporary Caroling gigs—this will be the sixth annual event—sports such eclectic oddities as a campy homage to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” an appropriately raspy rendition of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” and a humorously cloying version of Katy Perry’s sugar-coated “Firework.”

“It’s about the simple joy of singing on the longest, darkest night of the year,” says Aetherplough co-founder Susann Suprenant, who recently retired as Dean of Communications and Humanities at Metro Community College. It’s also Aetherplough’s way of perhaps countering prevailing culture. “Our intent is building community through singing,” she adds before pointing to the “potentially crass, commercialized music piped incessantly throughout the holidays.”

The Aethertones’ formula is a simple one. The program is secular. The voices are a cappella. Sometimes they toss in an acoustic guitar.

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“Contemporary caroling is a reboot of the traditional folk form,” says Thom Sibbitt. He’s the education coordinator at The Kent Bellows Studio and Center for Visual Art who, along with Suprenant, founded Aetherplough. “People have always come together to sing. It’s something that’s just natural, something we’re drawn to. Communal song has a power that is central to who we are. It’s an important part of being human.”

Aetherplough, which took home an Omaha Entertainment and Arts Award for best original script with their 2009 performance of Knives Out at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, has carved out a niche sometimes far beyond the fringes of the local theater scene. The company is known for work that is often of the heady, intoxicating, and deliciously noggin-scratchin’ variety. They’re the kind of artists who believe that if a scene is good, it’d probably be even better if the actor performed it perched atop a ladder.

So it should come as no surprise that the boundary-busting Aetherplough has now added an operatic voice to its talented ensemble of actors, dancers, poets, composers, musicians, and visual artists.

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Hitting the high Cs on caroling night will be soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett. An Omaha native, she recently returned home after launching a career that found her floodlit on stages across three continents.

“I started out as a straight-ahead opera singer, but met a lot of really interesting people along the way,” DeBoer says of the contemporary composers and other artists who helped fuel her interest in new, often experimental modes of creativity. “I can talk to the composer about the music being made. I can talk to the poet about the lyrics. You can’t do that with dead guys like Mozart and Beethoven. It becomes music of my time, music about all of us.”

Specializing in contemporary vocal literature and project-based performances that integrate classical music into modern social contexts, DeBoer has performed with such disparate names as minimal music legend Phillip Glass and the idiomatic noise pop band Deerhoof. Earlier this year DeBoer released her first solo album, I Vapor Breath, and will record a full album with Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble in 2014.

DeBoer also performed in August at Omaha Fashion Week. And, yes, that’s her on the cover of this issue of The Encounter wearing some of the dramatic Omaha Fashion Week pieces created by local designer Jenny Pool.

The 28-year-old artist is a member of Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente and a co-founder of the Color Field Ensemble and Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble—both based in New York City. She is also a co-founder of Omaha’s Ars Cantus Antiquitas, which is known for its modern interpretations and unique presentations of early music.

“When I came back to Omaha I looked for opportunities for collaborative experiences,” says DeBoer. “At first I felt like I was shouting into a void. It was like, ‘Is there anyone out there?’ Susann and Thom’s voices were the first to echo back. So I sat in on a rehearsal of theirs, and my head just began swirling.

“Aetherplough allows artists to bring their own experiences to create something completely new and completely personal,” she continues, “but it’s all rooted in a shared tradition that makes it universal and accessible to all.”

Even when it comes to opera?

“Especially opera.”

The Aethertones will perform their 2013 Contemporary Caroling program Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Market Passageway; 417 S 11th St. The event is free.

Michael Lyon

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After years singing opera, this transplanted Brit finds a niche in American standards.

He studied with some of the world’s finest opera coaches and vocal teachers; sang the lead in famous operas like Tosca, La Bohéme, Aida, Pagliacci, and Madame Butterfly; performed as soloist for oratorios and masses by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Verdi; and graced the main stage at Carnegie Hall as a featured soloist.

So why is Michael Lyon singing cover songs of Sinatra, Bennett, and Bublé for the Thursday-evening crowd at Ryan’s Bistro? He’s living his dream—a dream he has re-formed many times over.

“It took me until my mid-50s to understand that what I am is a performer,” says the singer in his West Omaha home. And what a performer he is!

Dressed casually in black, Lyon sings the standards with the air and confidence of a seasoned professional. His beautiful tenor voice carries a rich tone, but he holds back on the power his voice can reach. He hits high notes with ease and in tune. He’s smooth but never smarmy and keeps the schmaltz at bay. He doesn’t rely on gimmicks; he has the talent and training to let the music and lyrics do the talking.

 “…I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.”

“We get people in here who think they’re listening to a recording, a sound system,” says Julia Stein, bar manager at Ryan’s. “He’s awesome. We love him here.”

Is this what Lyon envisioned over 30 years ago when he set out to be a great opera singer? No. Is he satisfied with his life as Omaha’s go-to tenor for special events? “Yes,” he says without hesitation. “I have become very adept at surviving in this world.”

Lyon’s world began in England’s county of Cornwall, where he grew up in a small dairy farming community. Neither parent displayed any musical abilities, so when their little son opened his mouth and made a beautiful sound, the only nurturing of his talent came from the school choir…until he got kicked out at age 10 for “goofing around.”

Lyon eventually channeled his feistiness into a single-mindedness that paved the way for his future. When he was about 20, he listened to a recording of an Italian opera “and I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.” And so he did.

With newfound purpose, Lyon won a position with the Bristol Opera Company. Within a year and still without vocal training, he secured the lead in a production—as a baritone. “I then decided that I had to study seriously, which I did, and won several competitions,” explains Lyon.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said…’How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Flush with confidence in his talent, Lyon emigrated in 1981 to Los Angeles, where he continued his vocal studies. He credits opera star Baldo dal Ponte for “giving me my high notes” and transforming him into a tenor. In 1984, Lyon met his future wife at an opera workshop. He and Kristin, an Omaha native, spent the next decade and a half performing in L.A.’s numerous opera and music theatre venues. They were at home on the stage and in demand, but singing didn’t pay the rent. The bottom fell out when both lost their day jobs within a month of each other.

Michael, Kristin, and son Max relocated to Omaha in 2000. With limited opportunities to pursue opera here, Michael and Kristin began a successful real estate career. Michael also teamed up with KIOS-FM as the local host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 5-10 a.m.

But Lyon, who retains only a tinge of an accent from his native England, knew his whole identity was wrapped up in singing. After an eight-year hiatus, he bought a sound system and remade himself into “a hip guy.” Word-of-mouth brought success quickly.

“An events planner at Stokes [Grill & Bar] told me about Michael,” says Chris Blumkin, a management consultant and wife of Ron Blumkin, the president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We went to hear him at the Zin Room downtown. He has a genuine, warm way about him. We’ve hired him five times for corporate and family events.”

Lyon has never lost sight of who he is. That’s why sideways compliments from customers don’t faze him.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said, ‘You’re so great. How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”