Can you teach a young Italian boy to sing Beyonce’s “Listen”?
Cheryl Porter can.
Porter is a voice coach and singer in Vicenza, in northern Italy. Her videos of Italian teens learning to sing like American rhythm and blues divas have gone viral on YouTube.
When Cheryl Porter arrived in Italy 23 years ago to deepen her study of opera, she was surprised by how much Italians cherished American music.
“It was just such a shock for me because I thought that in Italy, it was mostly classical music,” Porter says. “I came to Italy to further my studies in Puccini, Verdi and Rossini and I never knew that there was so much love for American music, gospel, jazz, soul and R&B.”
Porter was born and raised in Chicago South Side and in 1990, she went on to study opera after being offered a full vocal scholarship at Northern Illinois University’s School of Music.
Now, more than two decades after settling in Vicenza, Porter is not only an accomplished performer who captivates international audiences with her rich and powerful voice, but she is also a voice coach. Children come to Porter’s coaching sessions with big dreams of following in the steps of iconic American singers.
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter
“Some of them are like, ‘OK well, I want to sing like Frank Sinatra, I want to be like Beyoncé, I want to sing like Christina Aguilera, I want to sing like Alicia Keys’ and I love it,” Porter says. “It is incredible because these kids at 7 years old and they have passion and they have so much drive.”
Besides focusing on vocals, Porter finds it important for her students to learn the historical and cultural context of a song. She speaks to her students about events relevant to a song and encourages them to read American history.
“Music is culture,” Porter says. “Music is history and if you teach a song about ‘Respect’ and Aretha Franklin, you have to know where that comes from. You have to know something about the civil rights movement. You have to know something about human rights.”
Porter says that “learning the original way” American performers sing is important for developing a good technique in young vocalists. Then, the next step is for artists to develop their own style and their own take on songs.
“It's not easy,” she explains. “[Some singers] think, ‘Well, who am I to have my own version of Aretha Franklin? Who am I to change a Beyoncé song?’ But that's the way music works. I always tell my students ‘Put your spice on this, put some salt and pepper on it.’”
And now, with her internet fame, Porter hopes bring her love of music across borders.
“If you want to [sing] professionally or if it's just your passion and you just love singing or do you like singing in the car or in the shower, there's something special about the human voice and there's something special about people who have the gift of singing.”