Rahsaan Patterson: Live on stage!

Rahsaan Patterson

According to the website Moms Who Think, the name “Rahsaan” is symbolic with the sun. It’s a name associated with pure energy and vitality. And according to All Baby Names, “People with the name Rahsaan have a deep inner desire to create and express themselves, often in public speaking, acting, writing or singing.” It also means, “He who is compassionate.” This week’s Portrait, Rahsaan Patterson is all of that and more. Some of you may recall Patterson from his early start on “Kids Incorporated” where he starred as “The Kid” on the hit teen show along with fellow performers like Shanice, Mario Lopez, Fergie and Jennifer Love-Hewitt. After the show ended its run, he concentrated on his music and built a huge fan base, including my nephew Mike, who introduced me to his music. 

R&B goddesses Chaka Khan and Ledisi have sung his praises. He has been co-billed with Earth, Wind & Fire, Lalah Hathaway and Fantasia. His songs have been recorded by Brandy and Van Hunt and he has collaborated with many of the greatest female voices of his generation including Faith Evans, Ledisi, Jody Watley and Rachelle Ferrell. He’s also composed and/or had his music featured in several movie and TV soundtracks.  

But where Patterson is at his best is his live shows. His music fuses the worlds of R&B, funk, jazz, gospel and electronica, and — as Watley puts it — his “wide-ranging honey toned and velvety smooth vocals, coupled with his unrivaled agility and his superb songwriting craftsmanship make him a standout in an era of here today-gone tomorrow artists.” He will be bringing his amazing talent to City Winery on June 7 but tickets are going fast! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tell me something about your parents.
My father has been deceased for 20-something years but my mother is very much still alive. They were both artists, creatives. My father was a singer. He was an athlete, also. My mother graduated from the school of performing arts in NY and was a theater actress. They very much supported and actually pushed me to discover my talents and creativity. They blessed me with the opportunity to live the life that I live now as an artist. 

So you come by your talent genuinely.
I do, and from other family members as well. My grandmother, my father’s sisters, and my mother’s sister were all singers and we had a lot of musicians in the family. 

How would your mother have described you as a kid?
Oooh! OK, emotional… talented… [laughing] hard headed! And independent, which was a result of having been supported and guided into becoming an independent thinker. 

A favorite class or a favorite teacher?
Teacher. I was in third grade. We lived in the Bronx and my favorite teacher was Mrs. Tanner. She was and is just a lovely woman. When we got to class each morning, she would have the curriculum written on the chalkboard so when we walked in, we saw what was intended throughout the day. And she always had Bob Marley playing on a cassette player. So we would walk in to Bob Marley and it really soothed the atmosphere for all the kids. She always had everything prepared for the day. It created a wonderful environment to be in and she turned me on to Bob Marley! 

When did you start getting into showbiz and how did you get onto “Kids Incorporated”?
I was 10 years old and it was August of 1984, so we were out of school. I’d performed in a local talent show earlier that year and a friend of my sisters had seen me. She was in California visiting her aunt, Chip Fields, who was an actress, producer and consultant that the TV show had contacted to help them find talent. She was also the mother of Kim Fields from “The Facts of Life” and “Living Single.” They had the rest of the cast booked but they wanted a Black boy who could sing and dance. My sister’s friend said, “I know someone.” They called on a Wednesday night. My mother woke me up from sleep and told me that I needed to sing something on the phone, so I did and went back to sleep. 

Shortly after, my mother came back in and said, “You have to pack a bag because you’re going to California to audition for a TV show. If you don’t get the show, you can stay and Chip will take you to Disneyland before you come home. If you get the part, you’ll stay with her until we figure things out.” So it was literally an overnight situation for me. Thursday, I flew to California. Friday, I auditioned. And Monday, I started work on the show. 

Wow! What was the best and worst thing about that part of your life?
Well, the best part is that I was thrust into an environment of creative energy with kids who were also gifted and talented, which was something I hadn’t experienced before. Where we lived in the Bronx, I didn’t know any other kids who sang and danced and entertained, so I kind of felt alone in that regard. But in CA, it was a whole different world and I found comfort in being amongst other talented children. 

The worst part was that, in a way, I literally was snatched from my family — my mother, my father, my sisters, cousins and grandparents. I come from a very close-knit, loving family and we lived near each other so we spent a lot of time together. When I would get home after working on the show, I was in a situation where I was essentially living with strangers. I’d seen Kim and her mother on television and it was a blessing that they welcomed me into their home and took care of me, but I still would sometimes cry myself to sleep because I didn’t have my family. That part was tough. 

I’m sure. What was a funny moment on set?
So many great and funny memories! Um, there was one episode with David Hasselhoff where my character, The Kid, wanted to skip school to go to a Prince concert. Hasselhoff was there to talk about why school was important. It was the first season and only about the third or fourth show I’d done and I was still learning what to do. I had the jitters and my nerves were so bad, I could not for the life of me get my lines out. That scene actually ended up on one of those blooper shows. Funny now, but frustrating at the time! 

What was it like being basically on your own and dealing with newfound stardom?
It was a shock in that you become “popular” overnight. Because it was a hit TV show, when we would go out, kids knew who we were. So if we went outside, people would ask for autographs and pictures — that kind of thing — and I’ve always tried to be very gracious and tangible and keep open that connection with people. Kids then and adults now. Their support of me in my craft is something I don’t take for granted ever. But the thing I learned at age 12 is that fame simply means people know who you are, nothing more. There are perks that obviously come with it, but the core meaning is just that. It’s nice and I receive it when people recognize me, but I don’t thrive off of it. I’m more interested in the craft.

So speaking of that, it seems like after the show you focused more on the musical side of things.
Luckily, the show involved singing and dancing so the move to a solo career focusing on music wasn’t a huge leap. Being a singer has been an innate part of who I am since I was a little, little boy. It’s what was most natural for me and where I found the most joy. It’s always connected me to spirit and a higher level of consciousness. When I was about 18, I chose to focus my career on singing. And I decided to be the kind of recording artist who would tell my truths and be authentic in my lyrics and how I expressed myself. I was very clear about wanting to approach my artistry in a very pure and authentic way. 

You’ve certainly been prolific. I was going through your catalog and it’s amazing. And you’ve worked with some incredible collaborators.
Thank you. Yes, through my collaborations with certain producers who were also working with other young talent, they’d often invite me to contribute to their records, so I worked with Tevin Campbell and Brandi and Jason Weaver. I didn’t realize it at the time but the universe had set it up so I could look back and say, “Wow, I contributed the music of a group of young performers like me who were and are fantastic and are still blessing people with their gifts.”

One thing I appreciate about your music is that it’s about things of substance and in the old-school tradition of having meaningful lyrics, not just “I want to ‘bleep’ you” not that there’s not a place for that. I sang along to “Push, push in the bush” too, but I get tired of the vulgarity these days. Your music puts positive vibes into the world.
Thank you.

Have you ever Taylor Swifted someone, put your heartbreak into a song about them?
[Laughing] Sure, of course there are stories that are directly related to my experiences. It was an interesting thing though. When I first began to write about what I may have gone through with a specific individual, something only known to me and them of course, not necessarily so good for the other person. It’s not normal to hear your relationship woes playing on the radio. But I think expressing myself that way allowed for healing to occur on both sides.

What was your coming out journey?
There was never a big “coming out.” My family has a lot of queer people and though we grew up religious, we were always allowed to be ourselves and never condemned for being who we are. We were able to love who we loved. So that gave me a comfort level with myself as a result. Now being in the record industry, especially in the R&B genre, there’s a lot of bullshit. However, I never tried to project myself in a way that was untrue to myself, never tried to look or act more masculine just to sell a record. The fact that I wasn’t hiding myself got the record label frustrated. Even just the vocalization, the way I emote through singing is unique, because depending on which register I sing in, there are times when people weren’t sure if it was a man or woman singing when I first started out. I loved the fact that it was bending the genre, because I always was drawn to artists like Prince who used the entire spectrum of their being to open people’s hearts and minds and broaden their perspectives. 

What was the biggest consequence for you?
Lack of radio support, lack of financial support. I know had I chosen to hide that part of myself, it would have had an effect. There were things that were taken away or not offered that could have led to more lucrative projects or brought me more notice, but that’s not who I am. And I’m happy with the authentic path I’ve chosen. 

And we’re going to have a chance to see you on June 7, right here in town. What can people expect from the show?
It’ll be myself, four musicians and two singers. People can expect great music, laughter and fun, spirits uplifted, and maybe even some astral projecting, depending on the energy. My audiences straight, gay, pansexual, whatever know that they will experience comfort at my show. 

Who is someone that inspired you as a queer artist?
My parents played all sorts of music in the house. Sylvester comes to mind. Nona Hendryx is another one, and of course there were artists who were clearly queer, but just weren’t in a position where they felt able to come out. 

Yeah, it pulls at my heart a little when I hear Luther Vandross sing lyrics like, “I won’t tell a soul/No one has to know/If you want to be totally discreet” in the song, “If Only for One Night.”
Yes, perfect example. So for me, with my audience, I think they appreciate having someone queer to represent the community. 

Very true. OK, let’s do some random questions. Who was your first boy kiss?
Oh wow. Well, he was a little older than me. It was in a pool, in the Bahamas, with Sade playing in the background and it was lovely. [Laughs] That’s all I’m saying!  

They do say it’s better in the Bahamas! If you could journey into a song or painting, what would you pick?
I have a painting right behind me, see? It’s from Egon Schiele and I love his work. He painted portraits of himself, which goes with my love of making creative selfies! He’s inspiring and there’s something about him that makes me wish I could have been in his atmosphere.

Are you partnered or singing solo?
[With a grin] Singing solo but periodically, I’ll do duets. 

I read that “Sent from Heaven” was considered the perfect wedding song. How many babies do you think were created with your music?
Quite a few! And over the years, I’ve had people tell me that they’ve named their child after me. That’s so lovely. 

I would think it was a little weird as well, to have a stranger connected to me by having my name.
No, it’s not weird to me. I guess because of how long I’ve been doing this, and seeing the impact it can have. Even as a kid, it’s something that I understood, that people were drawn to me and my gift or even a particular song from an episode of the show that made them feel a certain way. Once I started making my own music, I was aware of the importance it might have for people. 

What’s the strangest gift you received from a fan?
Someone that I met two times gave me underwear! 

Was this a Tom Jones-type thing? Throwing underwear on the stage?
No, no! It was new in a box, but too personal from someone I barely knew. 

Have you had any paranormal experiences?
Yes, every time I sing, almost every time. When I step on stage, my intention is to have a paranormal experience. I have to open myself up and put myself in that headspace. 

Aside from the connection that you have with the audience and the people on stage, are you bringing in the ancestors?
For sure and in fact, that’s where some of the tonal qualities I sing with come from. If I change the sound of my voice, it’s often from spirit and ancestral direction. They permeate my direction and my body and take me where I need to go, often to speak or sing on their behalf. 

Do you have a favorite motto or quote?
Find your bliss and plant yourself there. 

Rahsaan Patterson will perform at 6 p.m. on June 7 at City Winery, 990 Filbert St. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/3WWNs0o.

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