All's quiet for a big voice

Singer: Eron Bruce will sing for a national championship tomorrow, but today he isn't talking.

Naacp 2000

July 07, 2000|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

He will wake with a scarf around his neck.

He will eat breakfast, but no milk or cheese.

He will be escorted from a room at the Omni Hotel to the convention center.

Eron Bruce will be nervous.

His mother knows he will be quiet, strangely quiet, like the sky between lightning and thunder, and that is not at all like him. Yet he has been since Sunday: resting his voice, saving his breath, keeping the instrument in its case.

Because of what happens tomorrow, he has worn scarves to fend off a cold.

He has refrained from laughing out loud during re-runs of "Golden Girls" and "Designing Women."

Because tomorrow, Eron sings for the gold.

He won a silver medal at last year's Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. He won a gold in the contemporary music category in the Maryland competition earlier this year.

But tomorrow, he sings for a national title at the NAACP convention, where more than 800 teen-agers are competing in 25 ACT-SO categories, from poetry and personal essays to science projects and singing.

Eron is nervous because he will compete against 80 teens, because his is the most competitive category, because you just never know who might be in that vast auditorium watching.

Though Eron is 18 and bound for college, he has heard that record producers have called past winners. So you just never know. ...

Sometime tomorrow morning, Eron will step onto the stage at the convention center and listen for his pianist, Miss Talainia Smith, his former choir director at St. Frances Academy, to hit a D flat. Then he will sing.

What comes out will no doubt be beautiful. It wasn't always so.

Though Eron was born into a musical family, he was born on a sour note. He was convinced he had broken a sacred chain.

The family made up a gospel group, the Starks Family & Friends, then, and Eron "just couldn't get it," his mother says.

"We were having rehearsals, and he bombed. Oh Lord, that was every rehearsal."

Yet the family traced its talent back generations, to Eron's grandfather's grandmother Liza. She was the first to gather the family, nudge them to the front of a tent church in South Carolina and declare to the world they could sing.

Every generation since Liza has had The Gift.

"And I'm not talking about a little singing, holding a little note," says Eron's mother. "I'm talking about singing."

The family has singers with voices varied enough to fill a choir.

There's Eron's cousin, Stacey, quiet and reserved but able to blow the roof off when she sings. There's Eron's aunt, Gretchen, who is classically trained and can shatter glass. There's Eron's mom, Jazenia, whose voice sizzles when the notes are low.

For those born without the gift of a voice, there was the gift of an instrument.

The family plays trombone, tuba, guitar, saxophone, piano, organ. Eron's brother, Eric, was so good on a full set of drums by the time he was 3, he played with the Sounds of Joy, a band of grown men.

Then along came Eron.

They rehearsed twice a week, and bless his heart, he tried. Every time it came his turn, the others braced for a shower of bitter notes.

Eron was 7. His singing was all over the place, like a drunk trying to walk a straight line. He couldn't stay in pitch, couldn't hold a note, couldn't sustain a key.

Then one night at the United House of Prayer for All People, Eron prayed to the God of Liza: "Please, Lord, give me a voice like everybody else."

A few days later, Eron begged to lead, and everyone winced until a new sound washed over them, a sound so beautiful and melodious, they turned to see where the music came from, and there was Eron, not just singing, but really singing.

He sings in the morning, in the shower, in front of a fogged-up mirror with a hairbrush. He sings leaving their second-floor apartment near Morgan State University; he sings coming home.

He sings when his mom, a nurse who works the night shift, cooks his dinner. He sings her favorite song, "The Lord's Prayer," and it brings her to tears.

He sings on the answering machine. Leave a messsss-aaaaage.

He sang up until Sunday, when he quit.

His mom taught him to rest his instrument, so he has let the machine take messages and he has not talked at dinner. He has abstained from dairy products that coat the cords with phlegm. He has gargled with warm salt water and rinsed with cleansing lemons and honey.

Because tomorrow, Eron sings for $2,000 and a lap-top computer, and you just never know ...

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