Noah Stewart Looking to Revive the Harlem Renaissance

Opera singer adds modern twist to community's nostalgic era.

Posted: 06/17/2014 02:01 PM EDT

When you think of the opera singers, the image of a Black man from Harlem rarely comes to mind. But baritone-turned-tenor singer Noah Stewart has changed that.

Fresh off a European tour, the world renowned jazz singer touched down at Minton's, a jazz house in Harlem for a Hennessy Privilege-hosted welcome-home party on Monday (June 16).  Stewart serenaded an intimate crowd as they sipped on signature cocktails like "Hennessy Privilege Perfect Punch," infused with notes of apricot nectar and Pomegranate and the refreshing "Hennessy Privilege Stewart’s-A-Smash," a combination of the cognac with mint and lemon hints.

The iconic venue, home of some of the first Harlem Renaissance jam sessions, where bebop was born and where Duke Ellington sharpened his pianist chops, was fitting for the new face of Harlem’s jazz scene.

"I have been on the road a lot but now that I am back in Harlem I plan to bring the energy of the Harlem Renaissance back," Stewart told BET.com, who grew up in the historic Sugar Hill. "I love opera and there is nothing like being back here to share my experiences."

Stewart performed his first opera as a student at the famed Fiorello LaGuardia High School. He then went on to further harness his craft at the Juilliard School. From there he gained recognition singing backup for Coolio and other big names before breaking into the classical music community, which inevitably thrust him onto the international main stage.

But his road to opera singing sensation was often lonely. "I decided I wanted to pursue opera because no one looked like me," Stewart said in between boisterous sets. "When I was growing up everyone wanted to be a rap artist or the next pop star."

A story that is synonymous with other aspiring artists, Stewart faced adversity during his journey. He poked fun at his naysayers as he performed Barbara Streisand's "Everybody Says Don't," entertaining the crowd with his angelic voice and cunning lyrics all at once.

But after his international success, becoming the first Black man to have a No. 1 album on the U.K. classic charts in 2012, Stewart is still doing him and creating his legacy.

"Growing up in NYC, it's [important] to sit back and reflect on everything you did because the city moves so fast," Stewart said. "Now I can sit back and look at what I have done and my goals and say, 'I did that.'"

His moment of reflection at home will be brief. In the fall, Noah debuts La Boheme with the Nashville Opera, then returns to Michigan Opera Theater in Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

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(Photo: Soul Brother/PMG Media Group)

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