Acclaimed tubist shares his life story as a black classical artist

In a true and extraordinary story of resilience, Richard Antoine White’s new memoir traces his life from childhood struggling for survival on the streets of Baltimore to success as a classic tuba player. He is now a co-creator of a scholarship for black music students, the Brothers in Achievement Scholarship at the Jacobs School of Music in Indiana, where White did his graduate studies. His new book is “I’m Possible: A Story of Survival, a Tuba, and the Small Miracle of a Big Dream.” White joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to share snippets from her memoir and thoughts on a remarkable life that took a village to transform.

White’s precarious infancy:

“My life, luckily or unfortunately, started with my premature birth, so small you could put me in your hand and shut it up,” White said.

“I had to find food. So I would look in the gutter, find coins, go to the open market, and find chicken gizzards or a chicken wing or something, chew a little and put the rest under my tongue because that I didn’t know where my next meal would come from, ”White said. “The rest of my day was trying to find my mom if we went our separate ways. Most of the time I was successful, and if I was not successful I would find myself sleeping under a tree or on a piece of cardboard or in an abandoned house, and that was my daily routine.

“This story is not a story of pity. It is a story of triumph, resilience and overcoming. Because I consider my mother a hero, because she’s done one of the hardest things to do, and that is to give up her child, or her child, so that he can have a better chance. in life.

How, in White’s words, “playing music was like a light on in the dark:”

“I think the tuba represents me. For those of you who have never seen me, I’m 6’5 “, 340 lbs. True to my habit, I could have been a footballer. The tuba is bulky. The tuba is often the butt of jokes. I think Trevor Noah almost made me pass out, because he said, ‘The tuba is always the instrument we joke about, and then you have the sousaphone. Tell me about the sousaphone. I said, ” Yeah, that’s the instrument you’re wearing ”, and then he said,“ Oh, so you really have to carry the shame? ”And I burst out laughing.

“The tuba kept me off the streets. The tuba kept me involved. The tuba opened my world to a more diverse world. I am often asked, “How does it feel to be the only African American on stage in classical music?” And my answer is, “Well, you know, we all pick from the same set of notes,” the point being that we all have the same goal, and that’s just to make great music. “

Inspirational characters in White’s life:

“[Grandpa Archie] was simple. I think he just loved me. I think it’s love in its simplest form. Our favorite pastime was sitting in his bedroom, eating peppermint and watching the Baltimore Orioles, ”White said, describing his beloved foster grandfather. “I miss Grandpa Archie very much. He was a man of very few words, but he showed his expression in the most precious way I think you can, and that is over time. Because time is the only thing none of us can buy anymore.

“It’s interesting talking about Tupac all the time because a lot of people around the world knew him as the ‘gangster rapper, thug.’ I knew him as one of the smartest people I have ever met. I knew him as the theater major who sat in the cafeteria writing rhymes all day, but who could go on stage and do Shakespeare in iambic pentameter, and just put it down, “White said.” He m ‘encouraged to read, to be responsible for historical references. He said,’ You don’t know nothing about the Black Panthers. You have to read the Black Panthers. Dude, you have to know your history. And as a result, he was so articulate that I started looking for the Black Panthers, wanting to know more about the story.

“He’s a dreamer,” White said, speaking of his Indiana University mentor, Harvey Phillips. “A few years ago, in 1976 and 1973, he called Rockefeller Center in New York and said, ‘Hey, I want hundreds of tuba players to come to Rockefeller Center in Santa costumes and play Christmas carols. ‘ They said, ‘Hey, do you know where you called? Who are you?’ … They checked his references, called him back and said, “… You can have anything you want. When would you like Rockefeller Center? White continued, “He was the dreamer, full of ideas. He told me that the secret to success is to find something that doesn’t exist, that is needed, and to invent it.

Richard Antoine White’s new memoir “I’m Possible” is now available via Macmillan Publishers here. His website, containing a blog and information on upcoming projects, is http://rawtuba.com.

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