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Baritone Jubilant Sykes performs spirituals with The Florida Orchestra this weekend

A Black man in a black turtleneck and glasses with a grey beard, looks toward the camera
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This weekend when Baritone Jubilant Sykes takes the stage to perform African American spirituals with The Florida Orchestra, he’ll do it with music that he knows in his bones.

Sykes has sung lieder and opera arias, jazz, and many other genres, but this Saturday and Sunday, he will be singing songs he grew up hearing at home.

This weekend when Baritone Jubilant Sykes takes the stage to perform African American spirituals with The Florida Orchestra, he’ll do it with music that he knows in his bones.

These are songs that he heard his grandmother and mother singing when he was growing up in Southern California.

“And when you're a kid, the pain of it or what you're hearing, especially for my grandmother, you don't understand it. It's just kind of troubling, but yet beguiling," Sykes said. "So, I heard Leontyne Price singing them professionally on recording, and it was like, ‘Whoa, that's bigger than life. This is like, what in the heck.’ And it moved me to the core. And it's the lyric, it's the pathos of living, black, white, yellow, red, green, it's just … the madness of life.”

Sykes studied piano, but it was in middle school in Santa Monica where a teacher steered him toward singing.

“This teacher by the name of Linda Anderson, she just drew me right in and kept me after school, started teaching me song like Haydn songs, Bach chorales, and so it really started for me in seventh grade,” Sykes said.

Later, another teacher encouraged him to try out for a production with the Houston Opera, and that helped to set the course of his career.

By 19, he was singing professionally.

Sykes has sung music of all genres. His dad was an amateur jazz trumpeter who played the music of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald at home.

Along the way, Sykes said he has been encouraged by conductors such as Lorin Maazel and Christoph Eschenbach.

“They were the ones that sort of hired me to try other things and I love singing with orchestra," Sykes said. "That was my first job was with Minnesota Orchestra singing; I can't remember even what it was. It might have actually been a Mahler song, but I did this program I know with them where it was very eclectic.”

Sykes has also sung with Billy Joel and Country crooner Vince Gill in a tribute to Brian Wilson.

And music is only one facet of his career. He has made movies, including “Freedom,” where he sang “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child.”

He will be singing that song and “Were you There,” as well as Copland’s “Simple Gifts,” with The Florida Orchestra on Saturday and Sunday.

You can get more information about this weekend's concerts here.

I never know what my work day will bring, because I may be called on at the last minute to cover for someone in news or in Classical music.