The Cooke Book: The Music of Sam Cooke was created by the talented Darrian Ford. Backed by a live band, Ford interprets classic of Cooke's like "Chain Gang" and "You Send Me."
Ford's resume began at age 13 in the show Great Nitty Gritty. He moved to New York for a Broadway debut of Rodgers & Hammerstein's State Fair. He won The Black Theater Alliance Award for his role in Smokey Joe's Cafe.
Since 2008, the out performer has brought Cooke's music to life around the country. Ford talked after his recent City Winery show to discuss an exciting next chapter to his act.
Windy City Times: Hi, Darrian. Thanks for inviting me to the City Winery show.
Darrian Ford: I'm glad you could come. It was a good show last night. The crowd at our April 7 show was sold out but mostly our friends. The energy was bananas! This show felt like arts goers that were not necessarily our friends. They certainly seemed to enjoy it but not crazy like our friends were.
WCT: That's the challenge of building an audience. Next up is Lincoln Hall.
Darrian Ford: It is going to be a completely different audience. I think a much younger demographic. Luckily as we have been doing this show around the country the show appeals to them. We are able to hit both ends with the older and younger generations. I love exposing the younger generation to all of that great music.
WCT: That must be rewarding. Are you and Cooke alike in some ways?
Darrian Ford: People come backstage and tell me that I sound like Sam Cooke. Well, the truth is we share some qualities but if you play us side by side there are similarities. Way back when I first conceived the show it was clear that Sam and I share a music sensibility, above and beyond our similar sounds. If you are lucky enough to be able to identify that based on your own perception and other people's perceptions that you are in the state of a legend I am humbled by that.
WCT: Do you try to imitate the dance moves of Sam Cooke?
Darrian Ford: I don't try to do those moves. It comes [naturally], as I have a dance background. I have natural movement capabilities. In my mind, I understand the period that this music comes from so I naturally sync the two. The dance and period have joined forces on that one. I have not tried to emulate his moves. I have seen a lot of them so maybe they have gotten in there by osmosis.
WCT: You seem very comfortable onstage.
Darrian Ford: One of the things that helps me to be comfortable onstage or what looks like comfort to you is my bond with my band. These guys go around the country with me. We have a natural closeness that it is sometimes easy to forget that we are doing a show because we can sometimes act really silly just with ourselves. That helps me to be comfortable.
I'm comfortable in the music and sometimes it's easy to be comfortable in something you have created to suit you.
WCT: You have been performing since you very young, correct?
Darrian Ford: Since a wee tot!
WCT: Grew up in Chicago?
Darrian Ford: Yes, I grew up in the South Side, born and raised. I went to the Chicago High School of Performing Arts on a dance scholarship. When I was in high school I became an apprentice of Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre then I became a full member. In 1988 I did my first union show which was Hair at the Vic Theater. I moved to New York in 1989 where I danced for the Alvin Ailey company. I did one more dance company after with Donald Byrd then started doing musicals from then on out.
WCT: You live currently in Chicago?
Darrian Ford: I do. I have been back here since 2009. I came back on The Color Purple tour. This was my last stop.
WCT: Who was on the tour with you?
Darrian Ford: Felicia P. Fields was on that tour, another bigwig in Chicago. Fantasia had just returned to the show. We were at the Arie Crown Theater. If you saw that show, then you saw me.
WCT: I did see you. How was it working with Halle Berry in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge?
Darrian Ford: Oh, she was fantastic and still is. She was great to work with and very open. That part was a walk-on. They hired actors that could dance. Halle conceded that we were more advanced than she was, so she jumped on and learned what she could. She was gracious and great to work with.
Our first movement rehearsal we hit heads and I was literally knocked on the ground! I thought I would be fired and never work again but the next day she showed up wearing a bike helmet. She was being funny but I really was terrified. She's so tiny. Her head is like a peanut!
WCT: I bet she has good insurance.
Darrian Ford: [Laughs] I bet she does!
WCT: Are you out of the closet publicly?
Darrian Ford: I don't think I was ever in! I can't speak to the experience of coming out because I don't think I was ever in. I was in the arts at such a young age that the openness was kind of modeled for me.
It is very different in the jazz community. Outside of the Sam Cooke show, I am a jazz singer. It is still not as open as it should be as yet another arts medium. There is such denial in the Black community when it comes to gay people. So many jazz musicians are Black. You can actually feelwhen you are in a cluba little bit of a push back despite the fact that I know my shit when it comes to jazz.
On one hand you can feel that they respect me; on the other hand I can feel a little pushback.
When you grow up gay, it is often hard to express that little subtlety to people that are not perceiving it. As a Black, gay man I am definitely aware of it still in the jazz idiom for sure.
There is a stigma for some older people but the young cats don't care. They are so open and so great. They love the music and what they are doing. They couldn't give a rats ass about who you are sleeping with!
WCT: How often do you perform jazz shows?
Darrian Ford: I have been working so much with this show for the last six years that sometimes I just sing at open mics or jam sessions. It seems like forever that we have been working on putting out an album. I just started a Kickstarter campaign because what we want to do is have a string section, horn section and woodwind section. We are trying to piece it together with a thousand bucks here and there. It is pretty impossible. People leave and go out of town or they are not available. There are good rates on the off season or horrible rates in the on season. We are going to go ahead and launch that campaign and see if we can get a good crowd fund going.
WCT: Where do people go to get on your Kickstarter?
Darrian Ford: People can go to www.darrianford.com and that will link on the Facebook pages. We have come up with some wonderful incentives. There will be physical copies of the album but at a higher level of sponsorship we would like to invite people to a live performance event of the album. That will be pretty spectacular with a small orchestra. We have already had a couple of spaces donated to us for that to happen.
WCT: You took me to church last night so I wish you best of luck.
Darrian Ford: I love to hear that!
Ford channels Cooke at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N Lincoln Ave., at 8 p.m. on Aug. 29-30. Tickets may be purchased at lincolnhallchicago.com .