A few years back I used to work on a little local publication called “Mic Life Magazine”. It covered what we called at that time the “urban microphone culture scene”, spotlighting anyone doing cool, interesting, entertaining things with a microphone. I got to do a lot of interviews, talking to local artists and national acts like Dwele, Raheem DeVaughn, and Kindred The Family Soul. It was a cool magazine to work for, and I was sorry to see it go.
“Mic Life” gave me an opportunity to interview local artists and give them some shine alongside the national performers, which I always enjoyed doing. Since I have a decent number of blog readers now, I decided to bring it back in a small way by doing an interview in my blog once a week and calling it “Mic Life Mondays”. So…here is the first “Mic Life Mondays”, with my first feature – JONATHAN GILMORE!
I first heard Jonathan Gilmore’s voice at the now defunct Organic Soul Tuesdays when it was at Eden’s Lounge. I was there to meet up with various artist colleagues and friends to discuss some projects we were working on, and truthfully I wasn’t paying much mind to the open mic performers. As I scrolled through my phone to check my messages, suddenly an amazing soulful voice giving life to Porgy and Bess’s classic “Summertime” broke though my work-fueled haze, causing me to look up onstage to see a brown skinned, stockily-built young man, mouth open wide, eyes closed tightly. My jaw dropped, and as he completed the song and left the stage, I found myself shocked. I got up to find the young man, but he was gone. Asking around did finally give me his name, and a bit about his esteemed lineage – he was the son of Lea Gilmore, who was a creative force of nature as a singer, actress and activist. I went home and began my research, finding myself falling deeply in love with his talent as I watched You Tube clips one after another. And as fate would have it, a few days later I got a call from my good friend/singer/songwriter Ama Chandra, inviting me over to dinner. She mentioned that Jonathan was going to join us and we were going to cook up a big ole’ dinner, sit around, drink and talk. I was down, and a few hours later I was at her door, pot of shrimp gumbo in hand as my contribution. Shortly after Jonathan appeared, and he quickly commandeered Ama’s kitchen. And he clearly was familiar with moving around the stove. Pots and pans created magic at his touch, and a couple of hours later I was eating some of the best fried chicken I have ever had in my life, laughing hysterically at his hilariously vulgar mouth and admiring his thoughtful nature and his depth of talent. I booked him for a show I was producing on the spot, and I have been totally hooked on him ever since. And not only is he ferociously talented, he is equally humble, and his humility continues to be one of the things I most admire about him. In spite of all that he has accomplished, including numerous local performances at all kinds of venues, including performances at Creative Alliance with Navasha Daya, formerly of Fertile Ground, he truly values every person who has done anything, great or small to support him.
So when I decided to add “Mic Life Mondays” to my blog, I immediately thought of him. The original “Mic Life Magazine” was intended to highlight performance artists who utilized the microphone in innovative and skillful ways, and he definitely fits the bill. Mic Life also always sought to spotlight artists who typically didn’t get the shine they deserved, and again, Jonathan Gilmore fits that bill as well. So it was a no-brainer to ask him to be my first artist spotlight on “Mic Life Mondays”.
But first things first…let me let you get familiar with Mr. Gilmore’s music:
Now, I’ll let you get familiar with HIM!
Tula: Let’s get this out the way first: your full name, DOB/zodiac sign, age.
JG: Jonathan David Gilmore, June 20 1984, Gemini, 28.
Tula: Do you have brothers/sisters/wife/ex wife/baby momma/kids/dogs/cats/fish? Who is your family?
JG: I have one brother, two parents. (It sounds like pets, right?). I have a huuuuuuge family. I am very lucky that I got to know just about all my great grandparents. I have a lot of close fam that I’m still meeting. It’s a beautiful thing. I hope one day to have a house big enough so we can get together all the time.
Jonathan, Senior Prom – 2002
Tula: Were you born in Baltimore? Tell me a bit about where/how you were raised.
JG: I was born in Baltimore at Maryland General Hospital. I was raised in a two parent home…young parents. My mother was 18 and my father was 22 when I was born. They were a trip! They were very much parents — there was no blurry line with that. Me and my brother are six years apart and its like he was had to different parents. He had the older calmer set, but I had the young and tripped out version. It was cool though. I was raised around a lot of music, spontaneity, and a lot of love. I grew up in northeast Baltimore off Old York and 43rd Street. It was like many Baltimore areas — that mix of quiet and hood. My street was kinda of old school because everybody knew everybody and people’s parents were quick to pull you up if they caught acting up. My street looked like the movie “Crooklyn”; kids were everywhere!!! I don’t have a biological sister, but on this street God gave me one. I met Jada when I was 3 years old, and she has been my sister every since. We fought, ran the streets, she is/was a godsend for me because I was shy and she made me open up, fight back, do some crazy shit…
Tula: Tell me about your mom (for those who don’t know), and her role in how you got into music.
JG: My momma! She is Lea Gilmore, an activist, singer, actress, mother, wife, etc. When I was little sometimes babysitters were hard to find and I would have to go to work and school (she was going to Morgan at the time) with her. I was immersed in the Baltimore art world!!! She was heavily doing musical theater and waiting tables. My mother made sure I was busy and was nuts about how I spoke, walked, carried myself. (Her son was not going to be a thug!) I was enrolled in every arts program in Baltimore! Brighter Starts knew me very well and clear through high school I was busy working on either fine arts, music, or writing. My mother introduced to me some great very eclectic music. She introduced me to A Tribe Called Quest, Wu Tang, Fugees, Public Enemy, Brand New Heavies, Prince, (she is an uber fan), Tracy Chapman, Terrence Trent D’Arby — she was a young mother late eighties nineties you know. She taught me that I don’t have to be just one thing. I can do many things. I know I have made many decisions she would like to either undo or would have made for me, but my journey has been a crazy one and she has never left my side…great mother!!!
Tula: When did you first know you could sing well?
JG: I knew when I was 4 that I loved music and singing. My mother did musical theater and I had to go with her a lot of times, so I knew the songs and script before she did. I knew I could sing when I was 9 years old and I was singing along to a Whitney Houston song. Then I was at camp and they wanted me to sing “Tomorrow” by Tevin Campbell. I did and it scared the shit out of me!!! It was weird! I knew I wanted sing when I first heard Jerrita Davis at Mount Hope Baptist Church (my church home) sing! Wow! I had never heard any one in my age group sing like that! To this day she still kills (she is more of that extended fam that Black people take on). My parents did not know I could sing for a long time. I just did not tell them I wanted to do it. I regret it now because of my shyness (fear) I missed a lot of great opportunities. I thought that I was supposed to pick a career that made everyone else happy and lived up to the potential everyone saw in me. Wrong move! My grandmother two days before she passed (rather suddenly) told me to be comfortable being me. (I did not think of that moment ‘til right now.) It’s like she knew that I was struggling inside at that time. The first time people really heard me sing was at her funeral…
Tula: What’s your day job? How did you get into that kind of work?
JG: I work with kids on the autism spectrum. It is a great job. I love working with kids and it also helps while I’m in school. This job found me and I’m glad it did!
Tula: Tell me something most people don’t know about you that they would be shocked to know.
JG: I am a walking contradiction. I’m shy, but loud. I cuss a lot…like a lot. I am who I am! I am much more content sitting around a kitchen table than being in a club.
Tula: What other talents do you have?
JG: Your boy can throw down in a kitchen!!! I’m a pretty good writer, great kisser (wink, wink). Hopefully the next talent you will see is my Martin Luther King
Tula: Tell me about your first performance.
JG: My first professional solo performance was in 2007. Before that I had done a lot of musical theater but it was a blues show, and it was something else.
Tula: Tell me about your best performance, and your worst performance.
JG: My best performance? I am still reaching for that moment I can say that was the shit….my worst performance was at Terra Cafe! Oh my God it was bad and it’s recorded for the world to see on You Tube! I used a friend’s brother and his college friends as a band…the drummer was good but the guitarist got lost and my back up was so off it sound like two cats fighting. All you could do was have fun after a while
Tula: Do you have a ritual before you go onstage?
JG: No. I’m really quiet before I go up. I’m conserving energy, talking to God you know, working out the nerves!
Tula: What do you love about the Baltimore performing arts scene? What do you hate about it?
JG: The Baltimore art scene is like Baltimore itself. It’s just a small town. It’s amazing getting to know everyone and feeling a part [of it]. I knew I was official was one, when James Collins (formerly of Fertile Ground) asked me to be an Organic Soul All-Star at Afram and two, when OOH (of Brown F.I.S.H.) was like “we see you”….great moments! What I dislike is the lack of performance space and the sometime cliquish vibe you can get. I think we need to all work together put B-more on the map. Reciprocity and helping each other!!!
Tula: Name a few of your favorite local artists and why you like them.
JG: Ama Chandra: what a spirit! J Soul: the brotha is baaaaaad (good bad)! Marc Evans: great spirit and can siiiing! Femi The DriFish and Native Son: gets no better; Chris Featherstone: probably one of my favorites hands down. Therron Fowler, Kissi B. (woooooooooo), Brown F.I.S.H., E the Poet Emcee, you, Kane Mayfield, Ab-Rock, Sean, Jamma One, Navasha, April Sampe, Mocha! Good Lord there are so many I wish we could do a big Wattstax like concert in Baltimore — our own block party to save our streets…lets talk about how my city is trying to incarcerate and displace my people – let’s sing about that!
Jonathan with Navasha Daya
Tula: Who and/or what inspires you?
JG: Love and creation inspire me. Sounds cliché but we are called to love and reflect the light of the creator who has given us power to create
Tula: What projects are you working on? Are you recording a CD/working on your own live show…?
JG: Always working on my live shows. I want to record badly, but I want the songs and everything to be perfect! I don’t want a half ass project. I’m talking with a wonderful producer from Baltimore who everybody is using and he does great work hopefully we can work together…I know the type of artist I want to be and I’m not gonna bend. If I want to original I will, if I want to sing Gershwin I will, if I want to folk/bluegrass so shall it be.
Tula: Who do you want to work with locally AND nationally?
JG: I want to work with everybody in B-more!!! Nationally I would love to work with John Legend. He has a great musicality that just speaks to my ears. There are so many I just want to be a part of.
Tula: What do you want to accomplish in the next 6 weeks, 6 months, and 3 years?
JG: CD, school, relationship, tours, move, kids
Tula: Ya wanna make any comments about your love life? (smile)
JG: That I’m tired of crazy. Real tired. I am looking for a real cool woman.
Tula: You wanna elaborate on that cool woman thing?
JG: Over this past year I have seen dudes and myself have to deal with girls. By girls I mean that emotional manipulative, constantly need to be fed into, crazed energy. I want a woman that at least knows what she doesn’t want…a woman that rolls with bad days and is fully secure. If I say it, I mean it, and you should believe it. I am not that dude to call and check in text good morning beautiful and all that other lame shit. I want you to be able to stand on your own. I want her to already be a complete person. I want her to smell good. I want her to be quirky and a revolutionary. I want her to love kids. I want her to have her own life and friends. I have been with some wild women, and they have all been a learning lesson. I recently broke up with a young lady and we had many, many things happen to us but I learned a lot (I’m rambling!)
BUT if I was to have a perfect woman and tag her with a song def it would be Prince “She Loves Me For Me!” Listen to the words! That’s what i want! I promise when I meet her i will sing this song to her:
Tula: What happens next for you?
JG: I’m working on a documentary about trying to make the next step. I’m working with Kevin Salter on that. I’m teaching a class this summer on Black Culture at McDaniel College. I hope to really get a CD going before the year is out…and dream big!
Thanks for checking out this first edition of MIC LIFE MONDAYS!