Ryan Speedo Green - From a Troubled Childhood to the Opera in "Sing for Your Life"

November 28, 2016 - Ryan Speedo Green 11/28/2016 Views: 2,201

Ryan Speedo Green, the subject of the Daniel Bergner-penned biography "Sing for Your Life," explains how his time in a juvenile detention center led to a career in the opera. (5:02)

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Ryan Speedo Green.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

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.

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 teachersis talking 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-I think, for me,

uh, um, it was the educators.

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

um, one of them beingmy elementary school teacher.

And-and when I wasin 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, blonde-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, uh,

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-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 but bythe content of your character.

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

It actually took a long time.And once I left her class...

(stammers) left that safe haven,um, I went back to my old ways.

And I remember at the age of 12,

uh, being drivento juvenile detention,

uh, in, uh, handcuffsand leg shackles

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

spending a lot of timein solitary confinement.

What's genuinely powerfulis when you're telling the story

of beingin 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

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

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-but the thing is, aft...for some reason,

when I got out,I made a decision

that some people tell meis 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-I joined, uh, footballand I joined the Latin club,

'cause it was so differentfrom my trailer park.

And, uh, um,that sort of led me on a path.

I took choir asan easy elective, so I thought

I would... You know,'cause I thought I would have

this amazingNFL football career.

Obviously, that 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 -Yeah.

I'm seeing my first opera at 15.

It's a... it's a...it's a 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 gotto meet her backstage.

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

uh, you know, and I fell in...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 h-happened to hearby word of mouth about the book,

um, ended up being in the samegreen room at the... at...

I debuted a couple months agothe role of Colline at the Met.

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

waiting for her to comeand-and greet me offstage.

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

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

Thank youfor sharing it with us.