A New Beginning After 60 Years: “I Was a Frustrated Opera Singer – Then I Found My Voice of a Man of God” | Life and style

Wesley rowell hoped to be successful as an opera singer. Baritone-bass, he supported his ambitions and auditions with singing jobs in churches in Chicago and New York, and as a luxury salesman, selling expensive jars of face cream. Then, at 60, he found a different kind of voice – and started Princeton seminar with a mission to “reclaim the queerness of God”.

No one was more surprised than Rowell, who is now 61. “If someone had said to me three years ago, ‘You will go to seminary,’ that would have been a ridiculous joke. Her mother, however, “a very serene and sweet ’91 year old,” just smiled and said, “Well, I guess your grandma was right. the family’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and her grandmother had raised the possibility that one of the grandchildren would follow this path.

Rowell is still a little unclear where the seminar will take him when he leaves in 18 months. His cohort will work in churches and universities and with nonprofits, he believes. “And honestly, I don’t know where I am. I am open to whatever leads me.

Church, song, and family have always been linked. Singing began for him at church. “My grandmother hummed with me. And I can almost remember his vibration.

When he was 10 or 11 he realized, “Oh, I like boys. The library has become a new kind of church. “I would find all the gay books there was – Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin. And I hid them and I was going to read them.

Rowell heard “nothing but openness” from his grandfather. But still he said, “I knew instinctively, you have to shut this up, you have to keep it a secret.”

In his early twenties, he decided to study music. He stopped attending church regularly, but although he “Moved to New York to be famous” at 36, he still sang in churches. Even as he was breaking away from religion, he was acquiring a sample of preached voices. “I’m very grateful to all of these choirs,” he says. “I think I thought: religion is not for me – but spirituality is better in community.”

Bass vocals mature late, and in her early forties Rowell “had these fantasies … The right person is going to hear me.” He had big auditions. Friends from high school were singing all over the world. “I was not at this level professionally,” he says. “So there was this frustration. “

For the first time in her life, Rowell quit singing. In seven years, not a note. He sums up his thought: “I don’t know what my purpose is here, so I’m just going to party.

It wasn’t until 2013, when he became a paid singer at Middle church in New York, that he began to enter religion again with a full sense of self. One day he arrived when he was not supposed to sing. The pastor, who introduced himself as “the weirdest straight black woman,” told her, “Oh, we got you!”

Rowell started a church group “for queer black men who are interested in spirituality.” The pastor asked him to preach. It was a different stage form from opera but, he says, “More than when I was a performer, I’m like, ‘This is where I belong.'”

Of course, barriers to the feeling of belonging remained. If he had already discovered homophobia in church, in the gay community, he found racism (“I do not go out with blacks …” “). “I felt rejected. It took a long time to get over that, ”he says.

“I think I could be in seminary because I want people to realize that they don’t have to leave any part of themselves.

“The more we define our particularities, the more universal our bond is. I think people see this person as who they are. I don’t think I’m going to create a queer black church, but I want to create a church that centers the experience of people like me.

Does he want to found a church? Right now, he wasn’t sure why he was in seminary. “I said it out loud!” he says. “Maybe that’s where it’s happening.”

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