ESSENCE.com's "New and Next" column spotlights the brightest new talents we think you should know. This week we meet operatic tenor Noah Stewart, whose debut album "Noah" rose to the top of the UK charts this summer.
Who is Noah Stewart? It's rare to see Black opera singers thriving in classical music. It's far more rare to see a Black man do it and be successful like Noah Stewart. His fascination with music began in junior high school. "There was something about music that brought me in touch with a different side of myself," said Stewart, 33. "It was a new world for me because it also introduced me to literature. We sang in Latin, German and Italian and it was so different from Pop music. Classical music was never really played in my house…. Opera came in because it was easier for me to be a character than to be myself."
From there Stewart recognized, with the help of his then choir teacher, that he had an extraordinary gift. Stewart went on to The Julliard School after his mentor, Leontyne Price, encouraged him. Throughout his time there he landed backup gigs with Mariah Carey and caught the attention of Bill Cosby, who sent Stewart to a summer institute in Aspen, Colorado.
From secretary to the stage: After years of auditioning, Stewart began to feel like things weren't falling into place. He took some time off after college to work odd jobs around New York and soon found himself working as a receptionist at Carnegie Hall. "I ultimately learned I couldn't survive without music," he said. He decided to give it one last try and landed a spot with The San Francisco Opera. Stewart's life changed one night when the lead tenor in MacBeth fell ill and left him to go on with 15 minutes notice. After that faithful night he returned to New York and began auditioning once again — this time landing gigs that would give him the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall.
When asked what it's like to be a Black man in opera, he shared that it's difficult. "I've always been the only one or one of two in any company I'm with around the world. It's slightly odd," he says. He understands there aren't many Black men who sing romantic leads in opera but he refuses to let the low numbers shut him out from opportunities. "I refuse to be pigeonholed into playing stereotypical types of roles. It's not me. There are so many great singers who were never given a chance to show their talent because people weren't ready. I refuse to put boundaries around myself."
Where you can see him now: Stewart is breaking boundaries on all fronts these days. His current CD, Noah, debuted at number two behind Madonna's latest album this summer in the UK as well as hit number one the UK classical chart. He's currently starring in the Gimmerglass Opera's production of Verdi's Aida in upstate New York.
Check out a small clip of the operatic tenor singing "Amazing Grace" off his debut album below.