Opera Singer Angela Knight Produces Musical about Princess Diana
There aren’t many people who can trace the very beginning of their talent back to the womb. But Angela Knight can. Knight’s mother would listen to music while pregnant with her. Each time classical songs played, her baby would dance around as if she was enjoying it even before entering the world.
Early on, Knight’s voice got people’s attention. She credits her parents for recognizing this gift. A television series in the 70s called New Zoo Revue used song and dance to teach children lessons about kindness and respect. One of the characters, Henrietta Hippo, sang opera and Knight would imitate her. Knight’s mom took notice, and told her dad about Knight’s voice.
“I wanted other things,” says Knight, but she remained obedient to her parents’ wishes, attending conservatory, taking voice lessons, then going on to win awards and scholarships.
“I believe God gives us talents that we may not see at first but with the right encouragement from others, those talents are revealed,” she says.
After attending the Cleveland Institute of Music, Baldwin Wallace Conservatory and George Mason University, she found herself at age 28 lost and determined to not spend one more dime on voice lessons.
“You fall into a big black hole when you graduate,” says Knight. “Nothing was budging.”
Despite her hopelessness, she knew deep down she was destined for bigger things. One day at the airport, she saw a famous person who she knew could help her. Gathering her courage, she walked right up to him and said, “I want to sing Caro Nome; will you help me?” He responded, “Then you will.”
She was invited to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to sing for this influential person. But first, she needed to be ready. She met with Jackson Sheats, a well known and successful singer and professor at Shenandoah University who told her exactly how this audition would go: First, the famous person would be 15 minutes late, then the piano player would play poorly. But no matter what, just keep singing. It all happened exactly like that. Knight nailed it, and was asked where she wanted to sing.
“I could have asked for anything,” she says, “but I’d just had a baby and I wanted to be close to home.” She asked for Washington DC, where she performs to this day, a tenure of more than twenty-one years.
While watching Hamilton at the Kennedy Center one evening, Knight had what she calls a lightning bolt idea. “I am going to write a musical about Princess Diana,” she thought. In the dark, she reached into her purse for something to write on, because the ideas just started flowing. Eager for intermission, she ran outside and called her musical partner, Randal Dewey, a producer, songwriter, engineer, and musician, to ask if he wanted to produce it together.
Once the two started writing, the songs flowed easily, says Knight. They did have one hiccup though. Producing music is now a digital skill and the domain of a younger crowd. Not to be daunted, Knight decided to hire college interns to help with the new technology, ultimately selecting four students from Berkeley College of Music.
“Producing is where my life experiences all come together,” says Knight. The students lived with Knight and she used this time to show them the balance of life concept she believes in. Each morning, they would work, and then each afternoon the group would go on a hike, or visit a winery, or explore somewhere outdoors so they could clear their minds and begin anew. “You need to be free to create,” says Knight.
Clem Leaux, the lead intern, was looking for this type of life experience when he came to Berkeley from Paris. He says that when he and the other interns met Knight at her home in Haymarket, they “got along humanly and musically” with ideas coming so quickly, they could hardly stop writing and composing.
“We would have those moments where Angela would tell us a story we didn’t know about the princess,” says Leaux, “and the group would add emotion and tension to the song through the rhythm, crescendo, and chords.”
Knight explains that a particular song about the paparazzi hounding the princess would need to sound like the audience should feel; heart-pounding and building until the moment when silence hits. With Haley Kim on piano, Knight singing, Zack Page on guitar, Jannick Frampton on bass, and Clem on percussion and recording ideas and arranging them on sheet music, each song was crafted to take the audience through the joy and sadness of the story.
It was a harmonious collaboration; each member of the group maintained respect for each other’s thoughts and creative spirits. Knight’s care and hospitality were a blessing, Leaux says, and the time spent visiting battlefields and waterfalls inspired them.
When the music was complete, Knight and Dewey asked the interns to take several of the songs and adjust them to be more in line with the music of their generation. The result is a musical with a fresh, youthful feel to it.
Queen of the People’s Hearts will make its debut on April 4 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. It is not a story from the tabloids, but instead a musical about love; the brilliant and talented Angela Knight’s love for Diana, the Queen of people’s hearts.