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Countertenor John Holiday isn't trying to make you love him

When John Holiday sings Vivaldi’s aria “Ah, ch'infelice sempre” (Ah, how unhappy always), as he did with the Academy of Ancient Music in a 12th century church in London, he’s singing about loneliness, a lament for lost love. Holiday’s performance brings a timeless depth of emotion to this music from almost 400 years ago.

When he sings the pop ballad “All By Myself,” which he did as a finalist on NBC’s The Voice, the judges — Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton — rose to their feet and collectively lost their minds as the crowd went wild. But ignore all that. Just listen to what Holiday is doing with this song about loneliness, this lament for lost love.

Both of these performances bring the same artistry, the same complete investment of soul and self, the same devastating power of authentic expression that activates our own emotions, our memories of what it is to be alone. A Baroque cantata or a 1970s pop hit — for John, it’s all the same. Music is music, and it comes from his heart for one purpose: to help us connect with our feelings and experience our shared humanity.

John’s voice is extraordinary. He’s a countertenor — a male voice that can sing as high as a woman. The history of music written for the countertenor voice is entwined with narratives of queerness and gender throughout the centuries. As a gay man, John is part of that history, and he also belongs to the histories of Black singers across musical genres.

He grew up singing in the Calvary Way Missionary Baptist Church in Houston. As a member of the Fort Bend Boys Choir, he sang as a soloist with the Houston Symphony and was inspired to consider the world of opera when he had the chance to perform with visiting mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. In 2017, Holiday’s career got a major boost when he won the Kennedy Center’s Marian Anderson Vocal Award, enfolding him in the legacy of that groundbreaking African-American icon.

But this inheritance of otherness can be a superpower; it instills an awareness of how hard this world can be and the importance of empathy and understanding for ourselves and each other. John talks openly about self-acceptance and self-love, doing the work to feel strong and grounded in the fullness of who you are and where you come from. Because the greatest gift you give is not your high notes, extraordinary as they are, but your wide-open heart.

Copyright 2024 KDFC-FM

Lara Downes