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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Robert Mack expresses his purpose in the power of opera
Singer dumped 9-to-5 career to perform
Published Wednesday, April 11, 2018 2:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Robert Mack knows his purpose.

He returns to Charlotte, taking the stage as the mischievous music teacher Don Basilo in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in the Opera Carolina production running April 15, 19, and 21 at Belk Theater.  Much like Mozart, music defined Mack’s life from an early age. He began singing as a child in church, inspired by his alto mother, Annie Lee Mack and his father, Robert Mack.

“When I am singing, I feel purpose,” Mack said. “I live life very conscious of how I’m effecting other people.”

While he was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Mack spent a lot of time in the South, as his parents were natives of Hartsville, South Carolina.

“I spent a lot of time in South Carolina, where my mother’s brothers and sisters of 13 had their own traveling choir that sang gospel music in the South,” he said. “Music was always there, needless to say, and my parents saw at an early age that I had an interest in it, and nurtured me in it.”

Mack’s education took place in performing arts schools from junior high school through college, studying music at Yankton Conservatory of Music and Mannes College of Music with a concentration on voice. Despite surrounding himself with music, Mack’s first choice after college was the insurance industry instead of testing the uncertainty of what he described as a “competitive music world.”

“I became a manager at Prudential Insurance Company,” Mack said. “I think there was, honestly, a little bit of fear, and I took what I thought I could do, and it was just a customer service job.”

Yet, Mack remained involved in music to some degree, while rapidly climbing the corporate ladder over five years.

“I was always doing weddings and singing at different services in church, until a friend of mine said to me one day, ‘Robert, if you give the music industry what you give Prudential, I believe you can make something of it.’”

Mack parted ways with the insurance industry without any immediate security.

“I left Prudential with no job prospects,” Mack said. “A month and a half later, I was doing auditions. My first gig, only two months out, was for the Houston Grand Opera production of ‘Porgy and Bess’ at the Bastille in Paris. That’s not a bad way to start. I never turned back since then, and that was in 1996.”

Over two decades later, music has taken Mack all over the world in numerous roles, including the tenor solo in the Alvin Ailey Dance Company performance of “Revelations,” the Spoleto Festival premiere of “Amistad,” as well as co-founding and serving as general director of the Opera Noire of New York. Yet he credits his Newark roots with cultural exposure often presumed nonexistent there.

“Newark was full of so much culture, as far as the arts are concerned,” Mack said. “I went to a performing arts school, there was drama, singing, design—that was there surrounding me with a family of gospel singers. Newark produced so many performing artists—Sarah Vaughan, Melba Moore and so many others. Newark had that culture there way before me.”


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