As pleas for an impromptu private performance fade, junior Derrick Young prepares his rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" during lunch on Nov 28 in the choral room. After finding his pitch on the piano, the baritone closes his eyes and resounds with a smooth, steady version of the Yuletide classic, ending with a smile in the midst of ecstatic applause.
Such exhibition of talent is nothing new to Young. A veteran member of Blair's music department, Young participates in Chamber Choir, his church choir and Black Entertainment Television's Urban Nation Hope, Integration, Power, Helping Our People (H.I.P. H.O.P.) Choir, a well-regarded musical group made up of about 100 Metro-area youth.
Participating in H.I.P. H.O.P. has allowed Young to sing for an elite group of people that other teens can only dream of meeting, including singers Pattie LaBelle, Lauryn Hill and Kirk Franklin and former President Bill Clinton. Since joining the choir, Young has performed as the backup for artists Stevie Wonder, Chante Moore, Michael Jackson and P. Diddy.
In his two years with H.I.P. H.O.P., Young has performed at a variety of venues, including the Kennedy Center, the White House, Disney World and the United We Stand concert at RFK Stadium.
An unearthed jewel
Young began singing four years ago with his church, Victory Praise Church of God in Christ in Washington, D.C. He says he unexpectedly joined the choir during one of their rehearsals which he attended to hear them sing.
Now, Young sings for himself as a release from life's harder moments. "Singing helps me get through things that I'm having trouble with," he says. "Singing makes me feel good."
Young credits Regina Carlow, Blair's former choral director, for discovering and exposing his talent to the Blair community. Young and Carlow met after a performance of Much Ado About Nothing two years ago, and although Young did not sing during the play, he remembers Carlow questioning him about his singing. Young was shocked when she guessed his hidden talent simply from his articulation and voice projection.
"The minute I heard his very well-modulated speaking voice, I knew he could sing," Carlow explains. She says she was also impressed by Young's "comfort level onstage and his natural way of presenting himself to an audience."
After that day, Young says he went to the choral room daily to work with Carlow on his singing. "I would go to her room every day, and she would work with my range and [other aspects of singing]," recalls Young. "Ms. Carlow really helped me out and was a big encouragement for me," he says.
While singing in the choirs is a major responsibility, demanding at least three rehearsals every week, Young also rehearses individually outside of class, according to Blair's current choral director, Paul Newport. "I see him in the choral room practicing during his own lunch period," Newport says.
Carlow remembers Young's freshman year, when there was no room for choir in his schedule and Young had to sacrifice some of his free time to practice with her. "During first semester, he came after school to work with me, and during second semester Derrick gave up his lunch period every day to work with the Show Choir," she says. "He's a dedicated person."
While excelling in his art, Young maintains a 3.5 grade point average and is already thinking about his future. Although he wants to study psychology, Young says he will "definitely hold on to music."
The man behind the music
Senior Sean Cooney, who performed with Young in A Midsummer Night's Dream, says Young is friendly and eager to help others. "I have never seen Derrick with a bad attitude," Cooney says. "He is always respectful to everyone." Cooney says Young learned his lines quickly so he could help fellow actors learn their singing parts.
Carlow says this attitude is characteristic of Young. "He works very hard to bring out the best in others," she explains. "He is a team player and works well in a group despite his extraordinary talent as a soloist."
Cooney says people tune in when Young sings. "Everyone's ears perk up, and the ladies melt at the sound of his voice," he says.
Senior Chandra Craigg agrees. "Derrick is a beautiful singer and such a beautiful person with a wonderful personality," Craigg says.
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