There is another musical talent from Blue Springs, besides Davd Cook, and his name is Willis White.
From performing in award-winning Broadway shows to collaborating with such stars as Kelly Clarkson and Robin Thicke plus completing law school, the 34-year-old has already accomplished what most do in an entire lifetime. Since the age of 3, the ambitious White has incorporated his passion for music in a variety of ways ranging from being on stage to the business aspects of the industry.
Currently residing in New York City, White recently returned to his hometown and performed with his former Blue Springs High School choir during their fall concert on October 21. He also spoke with The Examiner to reflect on his musical endeavors and what the future has in store for him.
“It all began when I was 3-years-old at a Sunday night service,” says White regarding how he discovered his love of music and being on the stage. “My father, Bishop W.H. White Senior, was a founding pastor at the Emmanuel Church in Kansas City and allowed me to sing with the congregation.”
From that night on, White had found his calling and since then has actively pursued his dreams of becoming a musical sensation. White acknowledges that he had “the best of both worlds” given his grandfather was a saxophonist during the Kansas City jazz age of the 1930s and how he inherited his mother’s four-octave vocal range. “There are some roots that definitely predetermined my love of music,” he says. The spiritual and gospel style White was exposed to during his father’s time as a church leader influenced the genre of music he would later perform.
White and his family relocated to Blue Springs early in his elementary school years where he further honed his craft. This was also when he learned to play the cello. He placed first in several local and state singing competitions during high school. He credits the mentoring of his Blue Springs High School vocal instructor, Carl VunCannon. “He spotted my talent and wasn’t afraid to let me express my singing aspirations from all angles,” White says. “(VunCannon) also encouraged me to take independent lessons to develop a solid classical vocal technique. Blue Springs has always had an excellent choral program and I’m proud to say I’m a product of it.”
After graduating from Blue Springs High School in 1997, White attended Northwestern University in Chicago where he earned a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Studies, according to his biography on his website: http://thewilliswhite.com. He set his sights for stardom, moving to New York City where he performed on Broadway. “Right after college, I made my debut in the production of 'Hairspray,' ” he said.
White performed a strenuous eight shows a week on Broadway. He advises aspiring performers to “honor their physical being” by stretching out every day before rehearsal and doing cardio exercises daily. “Always give it your best and allow your voice to be accommodating so that it can be picked up and recorded easier by the sound department,” White suggests. “Once those basics are covered, love your profession.”
White also joined the musical group, “The Broadway Boys” in 2005. The group’s intent is to serve audences outside of the theater community to genres of music they may be unfamiliar with. “We perform Broadway standards and have a roster of 30 singers and an active six performers,” White states.
Throughout his time on Broadway, White worked with Jesse Tyler Ferguson from the television series, “Modern Family” on the production of "Spelling Bee," and Josh Gad from “The Book of Mormon” Broadway musical by TV’s “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
On top of relentlessly performing on stage either on Broadway or touring with a theater company, White also decided to pursue his second calling – practicing law. “I’ve always been a people person and given my experience as a performer, I wanted to help people, particularly artists, from a contractual standpoint,” White said . So in 2008, he went to Los Angeles to attend UCLA Law School and specialized in business and entertainment law.
In what may seem to be two very contrasting lines of work, White says the two fields are “surprisingly connected.”
“(Law and transactions) are about relating to people. Having a skillset of human interaction is akin to performing,” he said. “I want to help fellow artists on how to negotiate a business deal.” White said it “has been a blessing” to be able to pursue both fields.
These days the reinassance man is still busily performing as both a live and recording solo artist/songwriter. White has even worked as a background vocalist with pop stars such as Kelly Clarkson and crooner Robin Thicke. He recently released a single that has both R&B/Soul grooves called “Sharin’ the Love” that is available for purchase on either iTunes or Amazon.
Recently White and current Blue Springs High School vocal teacher Nathan Rudolph connected via Facebook. White previously went to school with Rudolph’s brother. Also, both Nathan and White previously sang in an a capella choir.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to invite him back to perform with us,” says Rudolph. “I sent him a message a couple of weeks before our fall choir concert asking if he would be in town during the time of the concert. He said he hadn’t planned to be in town, but he would be happy to come back just for the performance.
And White did just that. He flew from Brooklyn to Kansas City and made a guest appearance with the Blue Springs a cappella choir where he performed a solo on the spiritual arrangement of “I Know I Been Changed,” reminisicent of his early days at his father’s church.
“It was cool that someone from KC that made it big was willing to come back and help out our choir program in such a seemingly small way,” says Lynne O’Dell, a Blue Springs High School senior.
“He is the physical example of dreams can come true,” states Alexcia Page, a junior.
His words of encoragement for students and other aspiring performing artists: “It’s all about persistence.”
“It all boils down to believing in yourself,” he adds. “Continue to push. Don’t wait for other people’s validation. Pursue your ambition with all intensity. That way you’ll manifest your goals in the best way possible.”
White will soon return to his Kansas City again where he will sing the national anthem during the Chiefs-Broncos football game at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 1. “I am fortunate to represent Kansas City on a national scale,” he said.
“Kansas City is my core," he said. "My family is from here. I love my Chiefs and barbecue. This is where my heart is.”