By Charlie Reed
Ruben Studdard came to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last fall to sing the National Anthem at a Mocs football game at Finley Stadium.
He came back in March. This time to teach singing.
The Grammy-nominated recording artist and “American Idol” winner held the first of two masterclasses at UTC on March 7 at the University Center Auditorium.
He took the Singing Mocs under his wing, studying the ensemble during an intimate rehearsal-style session.
They studied him, too. Absorbing his advice, his tips and his star-studded attention.
“This is your time. Don’t doubt yourself,” Studdard told UTC junior Taylor Wells, a soprano whose solo during the song “One Call Away” started out a little shaky.
It clicked for Wells. By the final run-through, she commanded a warmer and smoother voice and smiled as she sang.
“You came out of your shell and you did it,” Studdard told her. “Your teacher wouldn’t have given you a solo if she didn’t think you could do it.
Beyond inspiration, Studdard offered practical advice to his eager students for the evening, everything from conscious breathing techniques to avoiding pitfalls on stage, such as fidgeting with the microphone cords.
“I realized that he has the heart of a teacher and it would be a shame not to let that become part of who he is. What we needed to do is provide the opportunity where his love and talent can be directed toward people that he’s trying to make more musical.”
Stuart Benkert, head of the UTC Department of Performing Arts
“This is exactly what I was at this age, and I remember it. I think if more adults could remember how they felt as a young person, you would have a better understanding of how to communicate with them,” said Studdard, raised by two school-teacher parents in Birmingham, Alabama, where he still calls home.
He rose to stardom during the second season of “American Idol” in 2003, earning the nickname “Velvet Teddy Bear” from legendary singer Gladys Knight, the Empress of Soul herself. He earned a Grammy Award nomination later that year for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the song “Superstar”.
Not long after becoming a household name from his success on “Idol,” he created the Ruben Studdard Foundation for the Advancement of Children in the Music Arts in Birmingham. That’s how Studdard connected with UTC Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Engagement Stacy Lightfoot, who previously served as the foundation’s executive director.
She set up Studdard’s performance at last fall’s football game and introduced him to other UTC faculty and staff, including Stuart Benkert, head of the UTC Department of Performing Arts.
“How could you not want to bring in somebody like him to work with our students?” Benkert said. “I realized that he has the heart of a teacher and it would be a shame not to let that become part of who he is. What we needed to do is provide the opportunity where his love and talent can be directed toward people that he’s trying to make more musical.”
Studdard returned to UTC for his second masterclass on March 28. Starting fall semester 2022, he will teach two courses at UTC, one on the commercial side of the music business and one on the performing side.Tags: Spring 2022, UT Chattanooga