If you ask a teenager to name their favorite musician, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear them say Cardi B, or Post Malone, or Drake. But if you ask Haymarket local Cameron Thistle, an exceptionally talented 17-year-old musician intent on attending the Berklee College of Music – and graduating high school a year early in order to do so – he’ll extoll the praises of Stevie Wonder and school you on the singer’s talent.
It’s not the answer you’d expect from a teenager but then, Thistle is anything but an average teenager.
Cameron or Cam, as his friends call him, began his music career at the age of four, inspired by his father, who played a variety of instruments. He took drum lessons for awhile, but soon stopped and pursued his own regimen of practicing every day, listening to music, and playing along by, as he says, “feeling [his] way through it.”
For 10 years he progressed in this manner, ultimately picking up the bass guitar and teaching himself how to play it. Why? Because he thought it would be fun and that, “one instrument wasn’t enough.”
It was also during this time that Cam discovered performing. In kindergarten, he played and sang Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” with his older brother Devin at the Buckland Elementary School talent show. The duo was a hit, and they performed together each year after that, until Devin went to middle school.
During his own middle school years, Cam sang in the chorus. He still does. These days he sings in the Battlefield High School choir. He has perfect pitch – a rare gift for a singer. But his vocal talent isn’t his only contribution to the group.
Says Douglas Burney, Battlefield’s choir director, “Cameron is incredibly talented. He practices, studies and works hard. However, that’s only a small part of who I see him to be. Cameron is a wonderful young man who goes out of his way to make others in the program feel welcome. He serves on the choir council for this very reason. He’s kind and encouraging to everyone, and that is where he’s made the biggest impact. He’s very humble, and because of his natural gifts, his great work ethic, and his humility, Cameron is going to make a huge impact not only in the music world but also in his future community.”
In addition to his love of performing, Cam has a talent for songwriting. Shy by nature, he finds that he can truly express himself through writing lyrics. It’s a process he describes as “uncomfortable” but, much like how he plays instruments, when he finds he’s hit a stumbling block, he feels his way through it, and that’s when the magic happens.
Many Haymarket locals are familiar with Cam and Devin, as they’ve performed in various northern Virginia venues as The Thistle Brothers. They have quite a following and have been missed in recent months. At present, Devin is studying at the Berklee School of Music and Cam is focused on his upcoming audition to the prestigious academy. He is so determined to move forward with his music, that he is working hard to finish high school a year early. When we sat down to talk, he was reviewing his assignments and recent test grades with his mom, detailing very seriously his rigorous academic strategy. His plan? Get accepted to Berklee, reunite with Devin, and continue writing and playing together.
Ever humble, Cam attributes much of his musical growth and readiness for the rigors of Berklee to Contemporary Music Center (CMC) in Haymarket.
“I can’t even put into words how incredible everyone at CMC has been to me and everything they have done for me and my family,” said Cam. “Rock camps, open mics, lessons, and the amazing people like Menzie Pittman and Jerry Hammack, have helped me come so far and become the person I am, both personally and musically.”
The feeling is mutual. Menzie Pittman has been working with Cam for years and as of late, spending hours with him helping him prepare for his Berklee audition.
“Cam is gifted,” says Pittman. “And while many kids are gifted, the difference is that Cam recognizes his gifts, and acts in accordance with them. Where some might be satisfied achieving something others would see as remarkable, he is always trying to enhance what he does and is driven to get the best out of his abilities. Ego isn’t part of Cam’s narrative, it’s just not there. That’s impressive.”
But back to Cam’s favorite musician, a guy who’s also pretty impressive.
It’s surprising to hear that Stevie Wonder is Cam’s favorite, but when he explains why, it becomes abundantly clear. Wonder’s career began with soul music and over the years he honed his talents in pop, funk, jazz, and R&B by feeling his way through each genre and mastering it. It’s the “feeling his way through it” that resonates with Cam.
Recently, Cam performed Wonder’s “As” at an open mic night. To play a song from 1976 to an audience of teenagers who’ve most likely never heard it before takes confidence, but it was his re-arrangement of the music and words, to sing both the chorus and the background singers’ refrain, that was remarkable.
“Cam is up for a challenge,” adds Pittman. “I like to throw as many as I can at him just to watch him problem solve in real time. It’s inspiring.”
Cameron Thistle is indeed inspiring. He’s also humble, kind, extraordinarily gifted, and going places. Stay tuned.