We caught up with Jerome Collins from Straight No Chaser, the men's a cappella group coming to the Straz Saturday night. Collins, one of the original members of Straight No Chaser, talked to us about his loves: his dog, music, and his wife (not, he stressed, necessarily in that order).
1. You're a Florida boy. Where did you grow up, and where's home?
My father was born and raised in Cocoa Beach; I spent my summers down here and now I currently live in West Palm Beach. I’m originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania.
2. You’re going to ping-pong across Florida this week – before Saturday in Tampa, you’re going from Melbourne to Sarasota to West Palm and then back to Tampa. This, of course, isn’t your first trip to the Tampa Bay area. If you could stay here for more than a night, what would you do?
I’m a big fan of the Tampa zoo [Lowry Park], it’s one of the best in the country. You’re talking to a Florida boy; there’s nothing like the beach. If I had more time we’re spend some time at the beach playing bocce ball, some cornhole. Florida, to me, is a place to come and relax.
3. What did you plan to do before Straight No Chaser became as big as it is?
I always wanted to be in the music business. Before this I was doing a stint as Simba in The Lion King over in Hong Kong. We had a vision of 10 guys who just wanted to sing for girls and food. It got bigger than our wildest dreams. We’re 10 friends from college who are, 20 years later, still singing together.
4. Who is your biggest musical influence?
I had a few. Soul-wise, I was always a big Marvin Gaye fan. To me, there was no greater performer than Michael Jackson.
5. Every Christmas, your holiday songs go into heavy rotation around our house. When I hear your version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” I have to wonder: Who does your music arrangements? How do you select music?
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” [arrangement] is actually an older song. We only added “Africa” to the end of that.
We have three or four guys in the group who arrange music. They come to the group with songs. We just put in on paper and see what works. It’s all about trial and error. It’s great that we have everything in house.
6. If someone's seeing Straight No Chaser for the first time Saturday night, what should they expect?
The thing about Straight No Chaser is we take our music seriously, we just don’t take ourselves too seriously. You're going to go through a wide range of emotions on our show. There are times you’re going to want to get up and dance. You’re going to want to laugh. You may want to cry. It’s family-friendly; 8 to 80 is [the] age range. It’s fun to see the families and everybody coming out and enjoy this. I challenge people who have never seen an a cappella group before, come see. It’s a party onstage and you’re all invited.
7. What’s your average night out when you aren’t performing?
R and R: That is my time when I get home to unwind, forget about work for a little bit. That is my time to spend with my family. I have a wife and I have a dog. I am not "Jerome from Straight No Chaser"; I am "Jerome, the husband, the dog-owner.” I have a lab mix, she’s the love of my life. Of course, my wife is my one and only, [but] I am a dog lover. There is nothing like an unconditional dog’s love.
This time, I am more excited to get home to my wife. I have a baby due in the middle of the tour: December 9. I’ll be a nervous wreck until then, but I can’t wait to experience the joys of having a child.
8. Straight No Chaser has no performances Thanksgiving week. What’s your Thanksgiving Day look like?
I plan to get a lot of food, a lot of rest, a lot of beach time next week because we’re going to be going back to the cold.
9. Your vocation is many people’s dream. What’s a dream you have that hasn’t come true yet?
I always had the aspirations of being a musician; I always told everyone at the early age of two, “This is what I want to do.” When this is said and done, I would like to try movies and performing. I tried corporate America and I wasn’t good at it. I want to continue on in music and continue bringing this joy to other people. I would love to teach music. People need to know music is one of the most important things in life to have. Music gives you a chance to relate something, maybe inspires you to do something else in life. I know when I’m down in life, singing a song or listening to one of my favorite musicians can change my whole outlook on life.
10. You mentioned how Straight No Chaser’s now-iconic “Twelve Days of Christmas” goes into Toto’s “Africa.” Audiences go wild when you do this, but I've also heard you referred to as “the black guy in Straight No Chaser." How do you handle that?
When it comes to music, there is no color; there is no black and white. I embrace my nationality, I embrace being black. I make a lot of references to color in the show. It’s not something that has ever got to a racial overtone; that's just the nature of what it is. The “Africa” on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was out there as a shout-out to our original fans; it was one of our first songs. Me being funny at that moment, I put my hand up, and it stuck [watch the video here]. That’s who I am... I am the African American of this group, and I think people have to come to recognize that I embrace my race.