IU Soul Revue, an ensemble of Indiana University student vocalists and musicians, recently got a behind-the-scenes look at what a career in the music business might mean when they made their West Coast premiere.
The four-day trip to Los Angeles last month involved multiple celebrity encounters, including a visit to producer and singer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds' recording studio and an appearance at Orange County jazz club Spaghettini. They also received a surprise FaceTime call from singer Toni Braxton while the students were performing in Babyface's studio.
"Toni Braxton is someone that I've idolized and admired since I was little," said Raven Curry, IU Soul Revue vocalist and a sophomore majoring in international studies. "The song that we sang, 'Long As I Live,' is not only one of my favorite songs, but the song that I have a lead part on this semester. It was amazing to sing it for her and the man who wrote the song. I cried so hard afterwards."
Besides their time in the recording studio, the students toured Studio Instrument Rentals studios -- spaces that have hosted artists like Beyoncé and Ariana Grande -- and visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Guitar Center.
But the musicians' true opportunity to exhibit their talent was performing on stage at Spaghettini, owned by IU alumnus and California native Cary Hardwick. Amazed by the school spirit and pride he witnessed during his time at IU, Hardwick remains committed to bringing in students and alumni to enhance his business. And Soul Revue did not disappoint.
"The IU Soul Revue absolutely exceeded my expectations, and I had high expectations from the beginning," Hardwick said. "The performance from beginning to end was just excellent. The personality, confidence and professionalism shined from the moment they began."
IU Soul Revue performed alongside Grammy-winning artist Terry Steele and received an encore and a standing ovation.
"Having the IU Soul Revue perform on my stage was one of my proudest moments in my 31 years of doing business," Hardwick said. "I am hopeful to be able to book one or more of these fine artists after they graduate."
This reaction is just what IU Soul Revue director James Strong strives for. Strong, a 30-year veteran of the music industry, spent time as a professional working in LA. Now, he said he’s using the connections he made there to benefit IU Soul Revue.
"We create a life-changing, real-world experience for the kids, something that is impactful to career decisions and will hopefully impact their future in a positive way," Strong said.
But the program extends far beyond the Los Angeles trip. IU Soul Revue serves as a supportive artistic community, especially for students like Curry.
"Being surrounded by talented people who share the same passion as me, want to succeed and work just as hard as I do, has made my college experience that much more memorable," Curry said. "Joining Soul Revue is the best decision I've made since I've been here at IU."
Visit the Soul Revue's blog to learn more about the L.A. trip.
IU Soul Revue is one of three performing ensembles managed by the African American Arts Institute and a course offered for academic credit through IU's Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies. The Soul Revue's trip to L.A. was made possible by support from the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs and IU Soul Revue alumni.