Getting Stoked and Grateful for Sunday: Tony Winner's Heart as Big as His Voice
February 24, 2021
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He's Stokes to his friends. Am I one?

Tony Award-winning actor Brian Stokes Mitchell is known among the Broadway and cabaret communities thanks to his sultry baritone voice that wraps around a phrase like no other.

We all will be treated to his musical resume Sunday, Feb. 28 as part of the Seth Concert Series, produced by Mark Cortale Presents and Broadway World.

Rather than talking all about the great way Seth Rudetsky gets stories and songs from his guests, I want to talk more about the man with a kind heart.

When I was a young theatre geek (pre-cell phone even), I heard this amazing voice on the Vanessa Williams cast album of "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Then a short time later I heard this velvety voice on this obscure album "Lunch" which featured Broadway stars. I knew that voice was definitely the same and a fan was born.

Back in those days, when you "followed" a star there was no Twitter or Instagram. So I had to follow him for real. So when I heard he was opening "Ragtime" the musical in Toronto, I worked overtime to get monies together to go to the show.
Then I wrote a letter to Stokes. Not an email - they hadn't really taken off yet. I wrote on a piece of paper telling Stokes how great he was and how I loved his voice and could even spot it in a musical line-up. Then I said I was flying from California to Toronto to see him in "Ragtime."

I got a call. It was Stokes. Damn - I wasn't home. But I had a message on my answering machine (you remember those - a device we used to use that was attached to our landline). Stokes said he loved my letter but he is leaving the Toronto company to open the show in Los Angeles and if I went there instead, he'd love to meet me.
What? Brian Stokes Mitchell - pre Tony Award but post TV success - wanted to meet me. So YES I went to Los Angeles. I made him a mixed tape (maybe a mixed CD) of songs he should record. More obscure Broadway and theatre tunes - but songs he should sing in any event.

There I am backstage with Stokes. He's introducing me like we're old friends. He asked me to sign his guest book. What? He wants me to sign a book? Wow!

Soon after that, the internet became popular and I used to write to Stokes via his AOL email he gave me. I'd meet him a few more times and/or offer reviews and comments via his AOL account. I still have that email address and would write every now and then. But they go unanswered. Likely not because Stokes doesn't care, he probably doesn't monitor an old AOL account.

Over the years, my love and appreciation for his talent has never waned. But what stands out more than that voice, was the generosity of his spirit.

Years and years and YEARS have gone by and none of my suggested songs were ever recorded by Stokes. Until 2006.  

When I got Stokes self-titled album, I saw the song "Grateful" included. I am positive that Stokes didn't wait almost 10 years to record a song from my mixed tape. Still, it made me happy as I love to be involved with song selection and I knew that Stokes and that song is perfect pairing of singer and song.

So to this day I am so grateful that we have someone like Stokes in the world. A star without the ego and one who was willing to see a young man's love for theatre as a beautiful thing to celebrate and not ignore. I am sure hoping that "Grateful" is included in this weekend's program.  Tune in with me to find out and get tickets at www.thesethconcertseries.com.

I know this blog is long enough but we do need the uplifting lyrics of "Grateful" at this time of our lives, so if you get a chance, seek out the song.

"Grateful"

I've got a roof over my head
I've got a warm place to sleep
Some nights I lie awake counting gifts
Instead of counting sheep

I've got a heart that can hold love
I've got a mind that can think
There may be times when I lose the light
And let my spirits sink
But I can't stay depressed
When I remember how I'm blessed

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed
And duly grateful

In a city of strangers
I've got a family of friends
No matter what rocks and brambles fill the way
I know that they will stay until the end

I feel a hand holding my hand
It's not a hand you can see
But on the road to the promised land
This hand will shepherd me
Through delight and despair
Holding tight and always there

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed
And duly grateful

It's not that I don't want a lot
Or hope for more, or dream of more
But giving thanks for what I've got
Makes me so much happier than keeping score

In a world that can bring pain
I will still take each chance
For I believe that whatever the terrain
Our feet can learn to dance
Whatever stone life may sling
We can moan or we can sing

Grateful, grateful
Truly grateful I am
Grateful, grateful
Truly blessed

And duly grateful

Lyrics used by permission only.
© 1996 by John Bucchino. Art Food Music (ASCAP)

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