Cambridge’s Kendall Ramseur will make his national debut tonight on America’s Got Talent as part of the Sons of Serendip quartet. To celebrate, we’re taking a look back at his Scout feature.
[This Story Originally Appeared in the Nov/Dec ’13 Issue of Scout Cambridge]
Every artist needs a little time to find his voice.
Kendall Ramseur is no exception. It wasn’t until his graduate school days at Boston University that Ramseur discovered his classical training as a cellist had a perfect complement in his innate gifts as an R&B-inflected vocalist; that cool combination powers his debut album, T.I.M.E., released earlier this year. (Think: John Legend meets Yo-Yo Ma.) And yet, when Ramseur thinks back on why he first selected his instrument of choice, the Cambridge resident realizes that there was a serendipitous reason the cello – well, spoke to him.
“The cello is often regarded as the instrument that is closest to the human voice,” says Ramseur, who began his love affair with music as a prodigious 7 year-old piano player. At age 10, he chose the cello from a splay of instruments his orchestra teacher laid out, and he never looked back. “I was attracted to that darker, warmer sound it had: the richness. I could relate to the vocal aspect of it.”
“And yet it wasn’t until college that I took up singing and thought, ‘wow. This combination of cello and voice, I can weave them together and accompany myself.’”
That’s exactly what Ramseur does on T.I.M.E., an acronym for “Truth in Many Experiences.” From the gentle sway of its hopeful opening song “Lullaby” to the album’s closer, the dramatic and pensive title track, T.I.M.E. both outlines the personal emotional journey of its creator and serves as a larger offering of “inspiration” to its listeners, says Ramseur, who was inspired in part by his experiences growing up in the church (he is the grandson of ministers) and early years surrounded by worship music.
“When you look at the music industry today, all the pop music is talking about sex, drugs and money all the time,” says Ramseur, who on his website manages to turn even the pop-EDM song “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia into an evocative, ecstatic ballad. “I feel like I need to step beyond that. My main goal is to inspire people and touch the heart.”
And Ramseur has certainly needed inspiration himself while treading the long, obstacle-ridden road of a professional musician. As a cellist, the Tar Heel State native already stood apart from his peers while studying at North Carolina School of the Arts: he wound up a member of the 2008 Grammy Awards Orchestra, and had the distinction of giving a private birthday performance of his original composition “How Far I’ve Come” at the home of Maya Angelou.
But he admits to struggling with performance anxiety after moving to Boston to pursue his masters of music in cello performance. “I’d practice 67 hours and it would sound amazing, then I’d get in front of a large audience at a recital and fall apart,” says Ramseur. “Part of me wanted to give up.” He nearly did, but combining cello work with his own live vocals – honed through experience with the BU gospel choir – somehow helped his music “all make sense,” he says. His confidence returned. But it’s still a challenge to build a creative career, and Ramseur, who also works as a music instructor, even found himself busking at T stops for added income.
Then, the artist’s dream: his talent was discovered. After a few wheeling, dealing meetings, an enthusiastic investor decided to sponsor the $20,000 production of Ramseur’s debut album, which dropped earlier this year during a release party at NAGA Lounge in Central Square. He has been touring to support T.I.M.E. ever since, and upcoming dates can be found on his website: kendallramseur.com.
Ramseur hopes to see you at a show. It will be a chance, after all, to hear his voice and relate to his words and music. “I have such a strong desire to share with people,” he says. “Music has been healing to me. Through the toughest times, because the cello was so close to the human voice, playing was as if I was singing: everything coming from my heart and telling my story.”