When Anthony Anderson went home from school, nobody could help him with his homework because no one in his family could read music. The youngest of seven kids, Anderson was the only one in the house whose homework included sight-reading music sheets and studying German and Italian. Now 19, Anderson has set his sights on a career singing opera.
He'll perform at the Fort Worth Opera’s annual gala, and he’s bringing his mom. This will be her first time to hear Anderson perform on a professional stage, and it will be her first plane ride. Anderson says he hopes to one day take his mom to see the opera Eugene Onegin while he's performing his dream role, the title character.
Anderson’s mom raised him and his siblings after their father was killed in a drive-by shooting when Anderson was just 3 years old. He never really knew his dad, but people tell Anderson that his father was a great guy. Anderson keeps his father's picture on his mirror.
Anderson didn’t want to go to the inner-city school he lived near, so he auditioned for an arts school and surprised himself and his family by getting in. At Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., freshmen have to choose an arts major, and he picked voice.
Ellington’s rigorous curriculum included music reading, singing in the choir and developing an ear for music. Each day started at 9 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. or later if there were performances. Freshmen study Italian, sophomores learn German, and juniors add Spanish and French.
Anderson's teachers recognized his vocal talent. He seemed to take to the languages and wasn’t afraid to work hard. By the end of high school, he had sung in German as Papageno in The Magic Flute and in Italian as Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro.
Working with his mentor and accompanist, the pianist Michael Crabill, Anderson developed his stage presence and showed a tremendous talent for opera. He was offered a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music. One of the first of his siblings to go to college, Anderson decided to stay closer to home and opted instead for the less expensive Virginia Commonwealth. But a debt of $11,000 forced him to drop out of school.
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Last summer, determined to pay off his debt and get back to school, Anderson set up a recital at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, hoping to raise money for his GoFundMe campaign. Word got out into the community, and soon, The Washington Post and NBC Nightly News were reporting on the recital.
Anderson’s GoFundMe raised enough to pay off his student debt with $50,000 to spare. The publicity led to auditions and interviews at seven colleges with nationally recognized music programs. He visited all seven schools and says he is talking to graduates of each program and praying for guidance. Anderson has narrowed it down to three top contenders, all of which offered him full rides — Juilliard School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory and the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins.
He says he enjoys the "bigger-than-life stories" of opera.
"Opera is not just people singing vowels," Anderson says. "I like the complexity of opera — much of music today is overly simplified. If you think of music as a spectrum, opera is on the extreme side."