Brian McKnight Reflects On Teachers Who Helped Shape Him

Apr 17, 2013
Originally published on April 17, 2013 8:37 pm
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While schools do often struggle to encourage and develop students' creativity, it's also true that many artists - actors, writers, musicians - when asked about a major influence, will name a teacher. That's certainly true of R&B singer Brian McKnight.

BRIAN MCKNIGHT: I was very fortunate coming up in high school and in middle school to have a few teachers that not only encouraged me, but there were a few that discouraged me as well. And I used both. In eighth grade, I had an English composition teacher. Her name was Mrs. Caldwell. And it wasn't that she discouraged me necessarily, but we didn't agree on a lot of different things. I really didn't want to listen to what she had to say because the way she was saying it to me didn't always make sense to me.

And I went back years later, and I apologized to her for being the troublesome kid that I was to her because a lot of the things that she said was the truth. And it was invaluable, the things that I learned in her classroom even in eighth grade. And then in high school, as far as a teacher who encouraged me - I never was in chorus, which people may - maybe hard for people to believe because when I was a kid, if you sang or danced or did anything artistic, you would get beat up. I played football.

But the kids at school didn't know I was a musician, only the kids that went to church with me. And there was a chorus, teacher's name was Les Nepper(ph). And I wanted to be a jazz pianist so bad. I wandered into his classroom one day because there was a piano in there, and I started playing. And he took me aside and really showed me the ropes from a real jazz standpoint because he heard that I was kind of doing it, and he really, I mean, I was in there every day for two years it seemed like, just under his tutelage.

In every bit of music I do today, there's something that I use that he showed to me. And I never really got a chance to thank him because he passed away before my career really took off. But I really am grateful to the things that he was able to show me and encourage in me to be a better musician. And I take that with me every single day.


SIEGEL: That's musician Brian McKnight. His latest album is called "More Than Words." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.