( ENSPIRE Music ) A Vocal Jazz Professor and Music Teacher For Future Generations
ENSPIRE Contributor: Gabrielle Maya
North Carolina native Mavis Swan Poole is an Award-winning Vocal Musician who has shattered music genre barriers and is known for her rich and smoky sound. Crowned “Little Ella” by legendary trombonist Curtis Fuller, she has received a vast education which included being a Magna Cum Laude graduate of North Carolina Central University (2007), receiving her BA in Music Education, her BM in Music (concentration in Jazz Vocal Studies), her MA in Music (2011) with a concentration in Jazz Vocal Performance at NYC Queens College.
Ms. Swan Poole has performed and collaborated on stages with many artists such as Lauryn Hill, Gladys Knight, 9th Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, and The Wailers. Ms. Swan Poole is a Vocal Jazz Adjunct Professor at North Carolina Central University with twenty years of teaching experience. She is also a 6-12 grade Music Teacher at Sallie B Howard School of Arts and Sciences.
She is known for her ability to sing two or more notes simultaneously or as it’s called ‘multiphonics’ since she was young. She has had vocal surgery and is a sulcus survivor. Ms. Swan Poole’s new song “The Assignment” compiles her despite the manifestations of the world and her private adult time. She and producer Eddie Gypsy Stokes crafted the song. ENSPIRE spoke with Ms. Swan Poole about her endeavors with music, breaking barriers, her educational journey, her music, and vocal teaching, and her new song “The Assignment”.
When did you know you were meant to sing?
I sang in the choir all of my life as a background singer. I was a young teenager when a friend helped me discover that my voice was something much more special than I had realized. After asking me to sing for her alone, my best friend convinced my Choir Director to let me sing a solo for the first time in church. When I finished, the eruption of applause and tears of those who had known me all along but didn’t know I could sing showed me I was meant to sing.
Has Jazz been the main genre to inspire you?
Actually, Gospel, Soul, and R&B played the biggest parts in inspiring me. I didn’t start learning Jazz until I was in my early 20’s. Jazz has definitely found a home in my heart, and now inspires much of what I do musically.
You are known for breaking genre barriers, what other forms of music did you enjoy creating and clashing with?
As stated earlier, Gospel, Soul, and R&B. I also really enjoy Classical and Reggae. I’ve toured with The Wailers and sang for years with a Reggae band in NY called Judah Tribe.
What are some key points you teach your 6-12 grade students?
BE BIG YOU. There is no competition when you are authentically yourself. There is only one YOU, so no one else can do that BUT YOU. Also, NOTHING about you is a mistake. You were skillfully and masterfully crafted to be just who you are. If you can accept yourself, you’ll teach others to do the same. You are the perfect YOU, and that’s always good enough.
Your educational background shows a passion for music, what were some challenges you’ve experienced through all these stages in getting your BA, BM, and M Degrees?
Well, it took time, energy, much sacrifice, and dedication to go to school at 21 years old and start the academic journey of music. I had the talent and gift to sing, but learning the concepts of music theory and the intricacies of Classical voice training, took focus and hard work.
Another challenge was the fact that I didn’t fully realize that the Black Church experience I knew so well was VALID musically. Many people in the academic setting attempted to discount that experience since we weren’t reading music, even though we were traveling, recording, and competing in the Gospel field. My church group “God’s Voices” sang at the Special Olympics with the likes of Gospel legend Shirley Caesar and Dr. Bobby Jones. We had done competitions as teenagers against adult choirs, and come out on top. But, even if we hadn’t had those successes, just singing in the pews swaying from side to side was enough to validate the cultural experience. Those that aren’t a part of it can ‘t validate or measure culture. It belongs to the people. It is valid. So, my valid church experience started being added to my field of expertise when it came time to ask people for the compensation I deserved after dedicating my life to my craft.
Please go in depth about what the new song “The Assignment” means and what the audience can take from it.
“The Assignment” specifically speaks to a successful and intimate sexual experience. A passionate encounter between two people, where one person met the needs and wants of the other extremely well.
What the audience can take from this is, as human beings, we forget how important sex is to our health, pleasure, and overall existence. It’s how we reproduce, for goodness sake! Regardless of race, religion, or creed, sex is vital to our lives, and it can and should be enjoyed. There should be no shame added to such a gift. So, this is just a song that the audience can throw on when they are about to have one of those encounters. Even if they aren’t active, they can enjoy the song.
Any future music projects or goals you are setting for this year?
I have another single entitled “How Do We Grow” coming out next month in May. This will be the last release before my full EP entitled “Adult Time, Vol. 1” is released. I am so extremely proud of this project produced by Eddie ‘Gypsy’ Stokes! We both worked hard on it and couldn’t have done it without my manager and friend, Myron Ruffin. “The Assignment” is one dimension of the album, but there is so much soul food and food for thought in this project, that it will stand the test of time.
Thanks for your platform, attention, and these great questions!
Mavis Swan Poole continues to impact the music community for youths and jazz music vocalists. Her teaching has brought new artists to the forefront, showcasing their talent and skill through her teaching. Her vast music education makes her the best in her field including your future music projects. Follow her Instagram for new updates and listen to her new song “The Assignment.”
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