Interviewing Singer, Songwriter & 2019 N.A.A.C.P Image Award Nominee, Omar Wilson was like talking with an old cousin you hadn't seen for a long time. There was a warmth about him, and he was grateful for all God had given him during his lifetime. Aside from being a man who had great gratitude and humility, he was also very relatable and real. For me, it is one of those most memorable interviews not just because I had the opportunity to discuss with this jewel of soul music, but because I had to pull into a parking lot on a hot day while sitting in my car to do this interview.
During my journey home, there was an accident on the main highway we use as a commuting route. I had two options at my disposal. Reschedule or conduct this interview by any means necessary. Because I consider myself to be a woman of my word, I chose the latter. And I'm so glad I did. After reading this interview, I hope you will realize why speaking with Omar was such an enjoyable experience. Let's get right into the meat of the discussion.
How are you doing today, Omar? It's above 50 degrees, so I have no complaints. Anything else, I'll just work, you know what I'm saying?
I know that's right! Omar, I was headed on my way home, and there was a significant car accident on Highway 111. For those who don't live in Palm Springs, CA, Highway 111 is one of our major streets that connect to all the major cities. So, if there's an accident on Hwy. 111, pretty much you're done. So, guess what, Omar? Yes?
Because of that, today is your special day because I get to do your interview from inside of my hot car while parked inside the McDonald's parking lot. How cool is that? (laughs) That's alright; my car was my first studio because it had the best acoustics. (laughs) my car was a rolling sound stage!
There you go! Let's do this! (laughs) Now, Omar, let's talk about that fantastic voice of yours. Listening to your sound takes me back to the old-school soul and R&B days. Thank you. I like to refer to my music as the actual school because the new school doesn't understand what real R&B music is all about. If they knew better, they would do better.
Absolutely. My genuine gratitude belongs to God for allowing me to have this voice and allowing doors to open for me as a result. Gina, I appreciate you for making it possible for artists like myself and others to tell our stories.
It is uncommon to find individuals today willing to represent the music that grew from the roots of R&B. The problem I had was that though I was reaching out, I could not get anyone to believe in me as an artist. I tried to land a record deal year after year but to no avail. Moreover, I did not receive any offers from anyone to appear on stage. I was greatly discouraged by this. Despite my best efforts, I could not find anyone willing to rock with my voice. It was like a grand epiphany, but I realized everything happens in God's time.
You're right. Everything happens in God's time, and I thank Him for giving me this chance to speak with you about your musical journey. Omar, at my age, I grew up listening to what I used to call "good music." When I use the term, I mean music that made you feel something, music that encouraged and did not discourage relationships, music with a message, and music that talented musicians played. As such, I love artists who embody this sound. One thing about me is that I've always been a link to the young G, the OG. Because of this, I feel it's my job to create that land bridge and re-establish respect.
That's awesome! I'm so glad that you're back and singing amazing soul music. Thanks. Now that I know why they're scared of me returning, but too bad, I'm here to stay.
And we're all so glad about that. Tell me, how old were you when you began singing? I was around 5 or 6 years old.
Who are your musical influences? Initially, I gained my experience in singing from singing in the church choir. The inspiration that came from the people, the vibe, and the reaction of the people in the crowd in response to my singing all played an intricate role in creating the desire of me wanting to sing at a professional level.
The funny thing is that I wasn't singing to make others happy. I was singing because it made me feel good. Nevertheless, the crowd apricated what I did.
How old were you when you sang your first solo in church? In my seventh year of life, I sang my first solo, and this was my first experience of the power of music and how it can have significant effects on the lives of others. In summary, I was born, learned how to walk, and started singing.
Were you ever asked to sing "His Eyes On a Sparrow"? We had to sing everything.
My dad was a pastor. Yes, so you know what it is. (laughs)
Oh yes! So, Omar, in a rapidly changing genre such as R&B and soul music, how important is it to stay relevant while staying true to your identity? Staying true to who I am, has always been my Achilles heel. As an artist, In multiple instances, I have been advised to represent music that does not resonate with who I am or the music that I want to be associated with. One example was when they tried to make me record an urban album. Considering I rejected Their efforts to reshape my vision of the type of music I felt connected to, they likely viewed me as someone who had a hardhead approach or someone who would not be flexible enough to work within this industry.
In retrospect, I wonder if that thought process led me to where I am today or whether I trusted myself so much that I knew it was the right decision. In my mind, my only problem was connecting with the right people and getting on the right track musically.
Growing up, I came from a place of self-belief and integrity. It wasn't about appeasing anyone but about what made you feel good.
What would you say was your motivating factor for all this? I had a child at 17. Because of this, I wanted to ensure my daughter had the best financial unbiased and fair advantage on this planet. That was the foundation for keeping it real and staying true to myself.
At what point did you start your professional career?
I sang in church from about six years old to 14. When I turned then 15, I started running the streets a bit. At 16, I was becoming a knucklehead.
Oh no, not a knucklehead! (laughs) Yes, a knucklehead. Now, my cousins were part of a rap group around 1995/96 named "The Lost Souls." I became inspired by them and began writing rap lyrics. During Thanksgiving one year, they came home, and I let him hear some of the raps I was doing, and they were so impressed that they asked me to appear on an album that they were working on called Soul Talk. That album was released in 1997. That was my first professional introduction to the music industry. The album had significant distribution at that time.
I became a member of the group for the release of that album. Later, we returned to the tri-state area and performed in New York. Now, whenever rap songs needed to be written, I wrote the hooks, then I sang them in our live performances. While I was outperforming and singing the choruses, people would ask me, "are you a singer? When this would happen, I just said no, I'm not a singer, I just rap and sing hooks. Regardless of what I said, people would say, "you have a voice!"
Next, I started writing R&B songs over rap beats. To my recollection, the first song I wrote was over a "NAS" beat. So, I let the group hear it, and then they let me sing one complete song in a rap set. The next thing I knew was that the singing became of greater importance than those mentioned earlier.
Now, the rap group I was a part of consisted of my three cousins. So, one day they walked up and told me I needed to sing. My response was that I was with them. Regardless of whether the group was struggling, I was a team player. Nevertheless, they insisted. They told me I had something special, and that they needed to back me.
Another thing that greatly inspired me to sing professionally was that three people who were so tenacious about their musical goals gave up their dreams to see me shine.
Throughout the years, many situations and circumstances presented themselves to me to thwart my direction and get me to compromise my integrity. However, I always stayed true to what I believed and committed to my path, unwilling to allow anyone to reset my course. I'm sorry, I cannot do it. Too many people sacrificed their livelihoods to ensure I was doing good. That has always been the nucleolus reason as to why I would never sell my soul.
Omar, I'm so proud of you, even to the point of getting out of this car and giving you a standing ovation! Are my eyes deceiving me, or were you on the Billboard charts for ten consecutive weeks in the top 30? I mean, come on! You go, Omar! So, tell me about that? Firstly, thank you, Gina. That was either for secret garden or Man's World. The crazy thing about that project was that when I decided to cover Man's World, some people didn't have the faith to believe that I could adequately cover a James Brown song. I know this because they said to me, "are you really going to try to redo a James Brown song? That could be the end of your career." Nevertheless, the song spoke to me.
Oh no, I can't believe someone said something like that to you. You have a beautiful voice. I would have thought that you would have done an excellent job. Thank you. Unfortunately, this is the type of thing that I would encounter. I had so much adversity in this game.
Throughout my career, I've acquired numerous accolades. Not only did I win "The Apollo," but I've won every award that you can think of in New York City as an independent artist. I even won an Underground Music Awards. I was winning awards everywhere, from the Bronx to New Jersey. Despite the fact I was the last person to perform, in the end, I would end up winning everywhere.
What was crazy is that no matter how many accolades I won, I never got the big break I felt I deserved. This is the reason why I'm so grateful now. Just seeing so much love and support brings tears to my eyes. I feel like finally!
I'm glad that everything is finally coming around full circle. Now, at one point, you attended school in pursuit of a career in the medical field. Tell me about that. Yes, I went to school to become a neurosurgeon doctor.
Oh wow! That's awesome! What an accomplishment. Thank you but Gina, check this out. I graduated from John Hopkins University, which is regarded as one of the most prestigious schools in the world.
Unfortunately, when I went to collect my transcripts, they could not locate my diploma. I told people I was a doctor for years. But no one believed me since my transcripts weren't present. I even had people laughing behind me because they thought I was lying. So, as you can see, it has not always been an easy road. However, redemption is beautiful, depending on which side you are on.
It feels so good to be recognized for who I am and my achievements over the years. Even though you do all this work, people still judge whether you have a million followers on social media or a platinum album. So, Gina, you have no idea how much I appreciate you for giving me this platform.
It's my pleasure. Did you ever get your transcripts back in your diploma? Yes, I finally got I got my transcripts back and my diploma. Not that I have anything to prove to anybody, but now all the naysayers can finally see that I wasn't lying about what I said.
Congratulations! You finally received your doctorate. I'm so proud of you. Now I can call you Doctor Omar Wilson! Yes! Thank you!
You're welcome. So, tell me, what goes through the mind of someone who achieves this type of greatness? What goes through your mind when you see your song on the Billboard Charts or find out the news that you have the biggest R&B record of the year? When I read through your achievements, I told myself this interview would take four days. I mean, Omar, come on, how do you interview all this greatness and put it into a 30-minute discussion? I know I'm saying a mouthful, but sometimes when you make it, you still feel like that little child singing his eyes on the Sparrow and church. And you don't realize that you've made it. I want to know what's going through your mind. Tell me? It brings tears to my eyes because it's like an Olympic champion standing on the podium, being presented with a gold medal. How do you describe that feeling? It's indescribable.
Seeing my mom's pride in me touches my heart. She worried once because she thought I wasn't getting my shot and couldn't understand why. You can have numerous accolades, but the bread still isn't there. There's no money to back up the notoriety. It gets to the point where you ask yourself, what do the accolades mean if I'm still struggling? At the same time, I continuously understand God's sovereignty and know that everything will happen in God's timing. They always say the money will come. The verbal confirmation is good for me because it's been a fight this whole time. I've been swinging with my hands up the entire time.
I went to the gym today and ran into a guy I've known for about ten years. He's a firefighter. I hadn't seen him in nearly two years. He said to me, "you have to earn every drop. " He said that some people get the big-time record deals and have Clive Davis flying them out everywhere. They meet the big-time investors and so forth. But he pointed out that my road has been a difficult one. There's not one thing I've accomplished that has been given to me. Everything that I've achieved, I've had to work hard for. I had neither friends nor blood relatives in the industry to hook me up. I didn't have any of those luxuries. I never had what most people had: help and support. What I had was adversity.
It's one thing when you tell people about what you've accomplished, but it's another when someone else gives you respect and honors you for your accomplishments. It's like receiving oxygen. It's a breath of fresh air.
You know I always tell people this, the difference between those who make it and those who don't support it. Think about it. Yeah.
And these days, it has little to do with talent, but it has everything to do with the level of support one can rally. Many artists have a significant advantage over others because they have that support. Some have prominent families, and others have a lot of friends who purchase their recordings and show up at their concerts. For example, let's look at Beyoncé. She had her mother and her Father in her corner. And they had money!
Yes! Do you know how many talented people don't have that? It's like a puzzle. If you're supported by family, friends, your management, the radio supports you, the record label helps you, and your fans go to your live shows and download your music, you are set for success. However, you're just a talented individual if you don't have any of that. It is guaranteed that you will not be able to succeed in that field, not because you are not gifted, not because you don't have value, but because you don't have support. In my opinion, this is very sad. I agree with you. If you see my skin right now, I look like a lizard. (laughs) Connecticut is my native state, and even to this day, some people could open doors for me but refuse because they dislike me. When I come around, there's a weird feeling that I can't explain. It's almost like they say, "oh no, here he comes. "I don't know why this is the case because I can't figure out what I did to anyone to anyone for them to treat me in this manner. Even to this day, I've encountered people within this industry who are unwilling to support me. Some have even gone as far as deliberately placing roadblocks in my way.
The sad part is that many of them have achieved great success! They've had the money, the homes, the cars, and the women, but they still are unwilling to help someone else. Not only are they reluctant to help, but they also refuse to acknowledge my achievements. This breaks my heart. I hope that someday we can be better and do better. I hope that someday we all can be people who will get out of our comfort zone and reach out to someone else because there's enough room for us to succeed in this business.
I was blessed by something I saw on social media once, and I think it speaks to your situation. And it said that. Don't be sad if you are flying alone because eagles fly alone, but pigeons flock together. I love it! Now you know that's going straight on the gram! Now you know that's going straight on the gram! Gina, some people have assaulted my character. However, I'm nothing like that. But at the end of the day, the good thing is that God knows my heart, and that's what matters. I've always been a lion and will continue to be regardless.
Let's pivot a bit. Let me tell you something, I listened to your rendition of Quincy Jones's "Secret Garden" (feat. Sisqó, Shawn Stockman, & Raheem DeVaughn) last night, and I was blown away by the range of your voice. When you did James Ingram's part, I was done. If you were standing before me, I would have thrown my shoe at you! (laughs) I said to myself, wait until I get Omar on this phone! The voice! (laughs) Tell me how it worked with the artist who also carried parts in that song? (laughs) First of all, thank you. Well, Secret Garden is the first single release of the new album that I'm putting out called "Omar Wilson Sings Cassic."
And I'm going to get it! Thank you because it's going to be a groundbreaking achievement. The album combines seven to eight of the most accredited soul and R&B Legendary voices in one album. Considering the industry's pullback, I said OK. So, I recorded a James Brown song and submitted it to different record labels. Unfortunately, none of the Record labels showed any interest in the recording. The fact that even a black executive had stated that, in his opinion, no one would be interested in listening to a James Brown song was shocking to me.
As for "Secret Garden," when I first developed the concept, I intended to perform the song with only one other person. We would take two portions, and one or the other would take care of the high notes.
In 2019, I was nominated for an NAACP Image award, and that's when I met with Raheem Devaughn. So, after a couple of conversations and kicking around some ideas, we decided we would like to work together on some projects. We didn't care who wrote the song, whether he did, whether I did, or whether we did it together; it didn't matter to us. We just knew that we wanted to work together. Our goal was to get in a space where we could both be able to create legendary material together. This took place before my idea of recording a remake version of Secret Garden. All this happened between 2019 and 2020.
Following this, I spoke with the good folks at BSE Recordings, the record label I am currently signed to. Next, I contacted Lou Humphrey and Jazz Joyner and asked them what they thought about us covering "Secret Garden? So, the following day he called me and told me to check my email. To my surprise, he had already created the track. I was so excited! I said OK, I had the idea, and you guys already started the track, so that made me feel good. I love the track!
As we discussed the recording further, he asked who I envisioned singing the song with me. I told him that I had met Raheem in California and would contact him to ask if he would be interested in participating in this project. Well, I called him, he accepted the invitation, asked me to send him the track, and recorded his verse. As for me, I've always loved James Ingram. So, I recorded the James Ingram parts and sent them back to Raheem. Now we were onto something because we began to formulate a cohesive unit. Our primary focus was to ensure that this recording could represent the original legendary version of Secret Garden properly. That was the most important thing. We took this very seriously.
Shawn Stockman of ( Boyz 11 Men) and I shared the same publicist at the time. So, once Shawn got word of it, he informed us that he would contact Shawn Stockman to see if he had an interest in recording a part in the song. I was like, what? I couldn't believe it! Shawn Stockman is one of the most accredited singers on the planet and from one of the most prominent singing groups since The Temptations!