Photo by Nick Spanos
Elliott Yamin Richmond
R&B singer-songwriter Elliott Yamin returns to his hometown this month for a fundraiser for Niger.
Elliott Yamin grew up in Richmond from the age of 11 and sprang to national awareness during the fifth season of American Idol in 2006, in which he ultimately placed third. Before Idol, he sang in Richmond jazz/funk and reggae bands, and since, he’s concentrated on doing what any musician does: making his way in the business. On July 18 at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, he’ll perform at a free concert along with McBeth and Prospect7 at the EJ Wade Foundation awareness and fundraising event, “Night for Niger,” from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
RM: How’s your summer been so far?
EY: At the Newport Beach [California] Jazz Festival, I got a chance to kick it off by opening for Mindi Abair. She’s a saxophonist who’s played with everybody from Aerosmith to John Tesh, and she did a set with Booker T. I got to rehearse with them for six hours, and that was a blast. I performed with her and sang a few of my tunes. The amount of history that accompanies these artists is truly humbling.
RM: You’re heading more in a jazz direction?
EY: I’ve been hanging around with more of the jazz cats because John Edman, my tour manager, also manages jazz musicians. I just did a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” for trumpeter Rick Braun, and I did Skylark’s “Wildflower” with Euge Groove, who’s toured with Rod Stewart.
RM: What projects are in front of you now?
EY: Besides shows, barricading myself in the studio. I am working to have ready by the end of the year an album for the Japanese Avex label. It’ll be released over there, and I hope it’ll get to the States.
RM: “Night for Niger” is a fundraiser for relief efforts in Niger. And you’ve visited Africa through the “Idol Gives Back” program.
EY: That was my introduction to the continent of Africa — I first went over [in 2010] with [fellow Idol alum] Fantasia, and then in a trip sponsored by ExxonMobil, which funds Malaria No More. We delivered bed nets in tiny villages all over Rwanda. And it’s life-changing. As much despair as there is there, it’s circumstantial — they don’t know another way of living. And they go on, and you come back with survivor’s guilt. In Angola, I met Sister Dominguez, who was working with children orphaned by the civil war, and in Luanda, Angola’s capital, she showed me this school with stairs that led nowhere. They needed $100,000 to finish the building, and I got ExxonMobil to give that. In 2011, United Airlines flew us to Ghana, to inaugurate their direct service, and carried over for us a ton of malaria bed nets, much-needed in rural eastern Ghana.
RM: What’s been the biggest lesson pertaining to a life in music after Idol?
EY: Learning to accept the ebb and flow. You don’t know what’ll hit with people, and you have absolutely no control over that. To be honest and totally boring, I was so green [in Idol], I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It was all about the goal of making a career out of doing something I love and I’m passionate about. And the show gave me that opportunity, and continues to do so.