Exclusive - Ryan Speedo Green Extended Interview

November 28, 2016 - Ryan Speedo Green 11/28/2016 Views: 16,008

Opera singer Ryan Speedo Green talks about turning a volatile and troubled childhood into a career in music in his biography "Sing for Your Life," written by Daniel Bergner. (9:16)

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Please welcomeRyan Speedo Green!

(applause and cheering)

Welcome to the show, sir.

Thank you for having me, Trevor.

Yeah, man. It's such a pleasureto have you,

especiallyafter reading your book.

You have quite a story to tell.

I mean, we can startat where you are now,

which is impressivein of itself.

You are performing at the Met,one of...

How many African-Americansdo you think have ever done it?

Um, there have been quite a few

since Marian Anderson inthe '50s, but it's not enough,

not quite... not enough,nearly enough for me.

It's a face that you don't seeon an opera stage.

No, it isn't, and I've beenlucky enough to, uh, um,

in my six years there, have seensome of the best performances

with African-American, uh,lead singers

and supporting...supporting characters, as well.

But, um...

your journey leading upto the world of opera

was honestly oneof the hardest journeys I...

You know, in the book,there's a line

where one of the teachers istalking about

how becominga professional opera singer is

as hard, if not more difficultthan becoming a physician,

and then, on top of that,

the chances of successare almost zero.

How does a kid

who grows up in the worldthat you grew up in...

I mean, growing up in the hood,

growing up in a world where

you were facingso many obstacles,

how do you look at operaas your way out?

You know, I mean,I think, for me,

it was the educators.

You know, there's twoimportant people in the book--

one of them beingmy elementary school teacher.

And when I was in fourth grade,

nine, 11 years old,nine to 11 years old,

I was in a class of sixor seven of the worst,

uh, kids in the school districtin southeastern Virginia.

And, um, it was taughtby this little five foot, one,

uh, tiny, blond-curled ladynamed Elizabeth Hughes.

And the first day of class,

the way that I introduced myselfto her was

by throwing my desk at herand telling her

that I will not be taughtby a white woman.

And insteadof sending me to the office

for my motherto come take me home,

she took my chair away and said,"You can learn from the floor,

"and when you're readyto learn from your desk,

you can have both your chairand your desk back."

And this is one of her first,like, "tough love" lessons

that she taught me.But right after that,

she made it a pointto teach everyone in the class,

of all cultures,all ethnicities,

the Martin Luther King speech,the "I Have a Dream" speech.

-Yeah. -And she made all of uslearn it and memorize it

and say it almost every day.

And... 'cause she wantedall of us to know

that in her classyou wouldn't be judged

by the color of your skin or bythe content of your character.

-And that stayed with me.-(applause)


you would think...you would think

in most people's stories,throwing a desk at somebody

would be the highlightof their, uh...

-(laughter)-of their terror as a child.

-Uh, but you were quitea monster growing up. -Yeah.

The... I was.The transition, um...

the mantra that she taught us,it didn't affect me immediately.

It actually took a long time,and once I left her class,

l... left that safe haven, um,I went back to my old ways.

And I remember at the age of 12

being drivento juvenile detention,

uh, in handcuffsand leg shackles

and spending two months there,and I remember the...

spending a lot of timein solitary confinement

for lashing outat the staff members

and the other inmates,and just how alone I felt,

and that being, like,the lowest point of my life.

Now that's... that's somethingthat I really wanted

to talk to you about,'cause I read through the book,

and what's...what's genuinely powerful

is when you're telling the storyof being in solitary confinement

you talk about thisfrom the perspective of a child.

It's not changing you.It's not helping you.

It's not fixing what at the timewas wrong with your mind.

In fact, if anything, you saidit just made you angrier

-Yeah. -and made you...it made you worse.

I would actually, you know,I would... I would scream

at the top of my lungstill I lost my voice,

and, um... you know,but the thing is,

aft... for some reason,when I got out

I made a decisionthat some people tell me

is not a normal decision.

But I made a decisionto surround myself, uh...

not only, um,with the right people

but the right environment--you know,

with extracurricular activity.

I joined, uh, footballand I joined the Latin club,

'cause it was so differentfrom my trailer park.

And, um, that sort of led meon a path.

I took choirs and easy electivesso I thought I would...

you know,'cause I thought I would have

this amazingNFL football career.

Obviously, it didn't work out.But, uh... (clears throat)

um, choir led me to auditionfor a school for the arts,

and I got in,and next thing I know

I'm seeing my first opera at 15.


you have this life.

You are strugglingwith a lot of issues.

One of the toughestrelationships you talk about

in this book is the onebetween yourself and your mom.

You-you didn't have a greatrelationship with your mom.

As you say,it's a work in progress.

In the book,you talk about that.

What really connected with me,though, was... it was, um...

It was a phrase that I was,I was reading,

and I was just like, it's oneof the most painful things

I've read through in a book.

It was where you said, um...

You say here, um--

'Cause you would talk abouthow you would sing

for your mother, who at thetime, you wanted to kill.

And you would have thison and off relationship.

You felt betrayed by her,and you say,

"My mom has hadso much happen to her.

"She never caught a break.

"And then I became thenot-catching-a-break.

She's had an awful life."What do you mean,

"And then I became thenot-catching-a break"?

You know, uh, ev-every parentloves, uh, their children.

You hope that they lovetheir children.

My mom, uh, who's been,actually,

one of the biggest supportersfor my musical career.

When I was at my lowest,on that point,

when I couldn't, uh,read music,

when I couldn't, uh, um,hold a tune,

or even get on stage and singin front of other people,

my mother wouldpush me to do it,

because she knew thatI had something special.

But at the same time, you know,as a child,

when, uh, when your childthreatens your life,

or when a child tells youthat they hate you,

and-and thinks-- makes you thecenter of all of their anger,

uh, that affects you.

And our relationshipwas a volatile one,

um, on both fronts.

I mean, it doesn't helpto have a child like me,

like I was at the time,very violent, very angry,

but it also, you know,you have to, uh,

you have to-- a parenthas to do what they can do.

So, you know, I'm-I'm very luckythat, you know,

the book has helped me, um,sort of therapeutically, uh,

-address my issues in the past.-Yeah.

And me and my mom's relationshipis-is-is one that's--

it's getting better, andgetting better as I get older.

When-when you, when you talkabout that relationship,

I mean, this-this is a story

that threw me so hardin the book.

You talk about how, you know,you threatened your mom.

You said you wanted to stab her.

And then, after that threat,

she found a drawing of yours,

where you had drawn outthe scene of the murder.

And you had, you had labeled it.

And you-you were reallya troubled kid,

but what-what got to me

was when you talked about

how you were treatedbecause of that.

What do you think you've learned

from your first-hand experience,

being someone who was

struggling with issuesat the time

and then havingthe justice system be the-the...

the departmentthat was treating you?

Um, you know, that'ssomething that, uh, you know,

I think the book itselfis, uh, a desc...

uh, sort of tells about what...how the world is today.

And, you know, the... thepreconceptions that happened,

um, in everybody's mind, about,you know, African-Americans,

uh, Muslims and o...and all sorts.

And I think, uh, um,the preconceptions of me,

as a child, um,where I came from,

um, how I acted,and-and how I looked,

people just assumedthat I was-I was a bad person.

I just fed into thosepreconceptions.

It's a... it's a-it'sa beautiful story.

I wish we had more timeto chat about it, but I...

I really loved it.I loved how honest you were.

I loved how you talked about,you know, your relationship

with your mom,going through, and...

What's really amazing isthe happy ending of the story.

Yeah. You know, I mean,it was... At-at 15, um,

I took my first trip to see anopera at the Metropolitan Opera.

And, for me, I thoughtopera was something

only a white person could do,and I thought, you know,

it's this big, fat, whiteViking lady breaking windows,

you know,that you saw on cartoons.

And... and for me, um,I saw this opera-- the opera

-was Carmen at theMetropolitan Opera, and... -Yes.

And what made it so monumentalto me, which changed my life,

was that the person singingthe lead role, the title role,

was an African-Americanmezzo-soprano

by the name of Denyce Graves.And she made me feel

every emotionon the emotional spectrum.

-Um, the book goes to greatdetail about that event. -Yeah.

And afterwards I got tomeet her backstage.

Uh, and she called me her boo,took pictures with me,

uh, you know, and I fellin-I fell in love with opera,

and when I left the opera housethat day, um, um,

I told my voice teacher,Mr. Brown, who's also

in the book-- great, greatperson-- I told him, you know,

"I know what I want to dowith my life.

I want to sing at the Met."And that was the first dream

-that I ever had. The firstdream. -And then... and then

you-you fast forward...

to you performing at the Met...

Yeah, nine years later.

And somebody has cometo watch you.

Yeah. And-and, you know, uh,recently, Denyce Graves,

uh, who ha-happened to hearby word of mouth about the book,

um, ended up being in the samegreen room after I-I debuted

a couple months ago at the roleof Colline at the Met.

She was in the same green roomthat I was at 15,

waiting for her to come and-andgreet me offstage,

-and it's a beautiful moment.-(applause)

It's a... it's an amazingand inspiring story.

Thank you forsharing it with us.