Thursday, June 21, 2007

Maestro Harrell

Maestro Harrell -- photo borrowed from his Facebook page --

I was writing lyrics for a sixty second radio commercial more than a decade ago and I decided that it would be brilliant, just brilliant, to do a kid rap. Mostly so I could claim that a white woman old enough to be someone's grandmother had written a rap. This was one of a series of commercials I did in different musical styles. But the idea that I could write a rap, of all things, that a client actually liked well enough to record for air, appealed to me most of all.

You probably think that commercials are all about selling products and services, but no, pretzel breath, the people who're writing them have their own agendas. [Quelle surprise!]. Usually the idea is to win awards for their empty bookshelves and credenzas. I'm as cheesy as the next person, but I usually enter competitions only when someone else pays the entry fee. And I pick contests not by their prestige, but by whether or not they award nice statues.

So I asked the guy who arranges my lyrics into meaningful notes if he knew a kid rapper. He said he did as a matter of fact. He wasn't more than ten or eleven and he had already performed on The Tonight Show. I was a little afraid that we were going to get a show biz wind up doll with a pain in the neck parent.

But the day we recorded, in walks this incredibly cute little ten year old boy with his wonderful dad, who installs air conditioning units, His name was Maestro Harrell, which I thought was a great name for a performer. He was EXTREMELY polite and always respectful, shaking my hand during introductions and saying, "How are you today? It's very nice to meet you."

He then went into the booth and proceeded to nail my white lady rap in two takes. We'd sent the lyrics over the day before but instead of just practicing them, he'd memorized them. He also added a few of his own personal riffs to make it even better. After the session he sat down at the synthesizer to play and sing some of his own tunes, ones he'd written when he wasn't doing homework or playing sports.

The next year we had a chance to do a music video to showcase a kids' show idea. And he was the first person we thought of to be the host of the program. We recorded the lyrics in the studio the day before we shot the video. He showed up at the shoot with all the words memorized so he could lip-sync without an ear prompter. Plus he had all kinds of ideas for choreography, which included cartwheels as well as some amazing dance moves.

Since then, he's gone on to other things and his dad calls me from time to time to keep me posted on what he's doing. After he was in the Lion King for several weeks here in Chicago, I heard he'd landed a part in an HBO series, The Wire.  I used to watch the show when it was first on, but not since Maestro got a part.  Mainly because I decided that HBO and SHOWTIME were getting way too expensive for what they were worth.

Yesterday a producer who has also worked with Maestro emailed me some good news --

This just in from the Emmy's:

Best Supporting Actor/Drama

After five seasons of playing The Shield's macho hothead so
enthusiastically, Walton Goggins finally got the chance this spring to show his range in revealing Shane Vendrell to be a guilt-ridden, soul-torn, corrupt cop whose anguished eyes haunt us. And in the newcomer category, we like Maestro Harrell. Seeing as The Wire boasts an ensemble of 30-plus pitch-perfect actors, it's hard to stand out.  But Harrell dominated the 2006 season with his performance as 14-year- old Randy — a wiseass, hustling, joyful kid whose life goes off the rails. Give this young actor some more work. Now.Way to go Maestro. It couldn't happen to a more deserving kid. Maybe I'll shell out for HBO again.


mosie1944 said...

Wow!  What an interesting life you lead.

screaminremo303 said...

All this talent and you can't bring in your dry cleaning?

jevanslink said...

It's not about CAN'T -- it's about WON'T.

Mrs. L

ksquester said...

Wonderful story!   Anne

mombzbe said...

You can sure pick 'em, Mrs L.
How about some lottery numbers? lol

Nice story~~

swibirun said...

Maestro needs to develop a vice or he'll NEVER get his E! True Hollywood Story.  Maybe you can get him interested in heroin import/export or clubbing baby seals or something?  

You always have the coolest stories.  I bet we could go to lunch everyday for one year and you'd still have tales you hadn't gotten to yet.  You rock, Mrs. L!