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What you need to know about 'Jamaican Tenor' Steve Higgins

Steve Higgins, who is known as “The Jamaican Tenor,” wants you to know that his countrymen appreciate all types of music.

“People think Jamaica is all reggae and dancehall,” Higgins explains. “That is so far from the truth. Parts of our musical appetites were fed from all over the world.”

This is a point he makes with his annual concerts, the next of which is titled “Steve Higgins and Friends: Falling for You” and plays Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.

“[The concert] has a lot of standards and a lot of jazz, but also we have a lot of Broadway, like ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘The Sound of Music,’ ” says Higgins, who lives in Davie. “And we’ll do Jamaican folk songs in the style of Harry Belafonte … and Latin fusion music, like ‘Bésame,’ and some classical music, like ‘Barcarolle’ by Jacque Offenbach. We’re trying to reach out … to the non-Jamaican community, to Caucasians, to Latino Americans, to Asian Americans. We’re trying to reach out to everyone. Love is a universal language and so is music. We’re using these universal languages to tear down manmade walls and that is what you will see onstage.”

Growing up in Jamaica

“I grew in Morant Bay in the parish St. Thomas,” says Higgins, who emigrated to the United States in 2002. “It’s east of Kingston. It neighbors Kingston. I’m a country boy.”

Higgins says that even though he grew up in a rural area, he and his three sisters had exposure to all kinds of music.

“My father and uncle were musical. And their uncle, he played like 10 instruments. He was just a master of music. So we’re from a very musical family. You know how most families sit at the dinner table and talk? Well, we listened to music. We listened to Strauss. I call it my oppressive childhood.”

Early influences

When he turned 18, Higgins moved to Kingston to attend college, where he started appearing in stage musicals and singing in various musical groups. Somehow, his musical hero was a Rat Packer.

“One of my favorite artists is Dean Martin. I was very impressed with him. He impacted me and my appreciation of music, especially standards.”

Another influence was Olive Lewin, who was director of one of the musical groups Higgins joined as well as a noted musicologist and social anthropologist of Jamaican folk music.

“She would go into the deep recesses of Jamaica and get the history from the people who were dying away,” Higgins says. “Our history was not written. It was mostly aural because of the slave trade.”

Dem 3 Jamaican Tenors

“I saw the Italian tenors, and I thought to myself, ‘We have three Jamaican tenors, too,’ ” Higgins says. “We did concerts in the States. We went to New York, Orlando, Atlanta and down here in Miami and, of course, Fort Lauderdale at the Broward Center. We — David Reid, Cecil Cooper and myself — took shows to London. We actually did shows up to two years ago when one of the tenors, Cecil Cooper, passed away.”

The power of music

Higgins says he saw firsthand the ability of music to reach across all kinds of barriers when he was a part of the Jamaican Folk Singers (an internationally recognized group founded in 1967 by Lewin) and later with other musical work, from Broadway musicals to opera.

“I went to where Bob Marley is from, Trenchtown — the ultimate ghetto in Jamaica. That’s where they have gang leaders with guns. These are the guys you read about. They are called dons. I went to [Lewin] and said, ‘Please [contact] one of the dons and give then 20 complimentary tickets. I will pay for them. Tell them to leave their guns at home and come to the university and listen and watch.’ Then, I totally forgot I gave the tickets. What I remember though was … after we did a curtain call, I went backstage [and] there was a call, ‘Where is Mr Higgins?’ I went outside in the dark, and there was this group congregating there. One gentleman stepped out of the crowd. ‘Are you Steve Higgins?’ he said. I said yes, and then he gave this big smile and said, ‘Thank you so much. We love the show.’ He said he’d never heard anything so beautiful in his life. It just goes to show that there are some people we tend to look down on. But they are people, too, just like us. They just don’t have the opportunity to witness this beauty. I never forgot that.”

What else you need to know about the show this Sunday

In addition to dancer Amaya Lewis (a Miss Jamaica finalist) performing, the “Falling for You” concert will feature a few songs from Higgins’ 5-year-old son, Matthew.

Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to the Partners for Youth Foundation in their outreach to the SOS Children's Village.

“Steve Higgins and Friends: Falling for You” will begin 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $33.54-$67.08. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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