Call Wayne Brady merely an entertainer, or categorize him solely as a comedian, and he will correct you, full stop. “I’m a singer, first and foremost,” says Brady, whose critically acclaimed album and Grammy nomination, as well as his smooth soul baritone, lend credence to this statement. However, if you require further proof, we suggest you see Brady during his stopover at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall in March, when he takes the stage for Wayne Brady Sings the Sammys, with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops playing backup. “I’m doing a tribute to the music that I grew up loving and grew up being a fan of; the music that made me want to sing,” says Brady of the show, which highlights the music of the incomparable Sammy Davis Jr. and legendary vocalist Sam Cooke.
“I open with Sammy and close with Sam,” says Brady, who performs this special production only a few times a year at various theaters across the country. “In between I have stories about the songs, how they came about, how they touched me personally. I consider myself a bit of an amateur historian when it comes to these guys, which is why I enjoy this show with such intensity.” For Brady songs like Davis’s “Mr. Bojangles” (“You have to do it with the same spirit that Sammy does it—I give it the respect due”) and “She’s a Woman (W-O-M-A-N)” (“This is where I throw in a touch of improvisation with the audience”) couldn’t be left off the list. Cooke’s portion of the show features hits such as “A Change Is Gonna Come” (“I was nominated for a Grammy for my version”) and “Chain Gang” (“When I was a child, I heard that song, and I knew I wanted to sound like him and follow in his path”).
Brady is currently hard at work on his next album, out in June, a souldriven R&B collection that he dubs “real” music. Despite his gigs as an improvisational comedy whiz and a television host, Brady’s path to the top of the charts is clearly marked in his mind, and he is fearless about listing singer as the headline of his personal catalog. “Sammy had a famous quote: ‘Yes, I can,’ and I really believe in that. My own variation, whenever I contemplate life or my career, is ‘Why not?’ I think Sammy put that in my ear from the time I was a little kid—and it stuck.” Wayne Brady Sings the Sammys runs from March 29 to 31 at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW, 202- 467-4600