Manny Houston is a man of many talents. He’s studied jazz and hip-hop dance. He’s acted in a myriad of theater productions. He has a degree in classical piano performance from the College of Charleston. And he can croon with the best of them. Not to mention he’s only 24 years old.
Next up, Houston is fronting a phenomenal 10-piece band for the show, "The Sound of Ivory: A Tribute to Famed Piano Singers by Manny Houston" at the Charleston Music Hall at 8 p.m. Sunday, April 8.
Houston has lived in Charleston for seven years, having moved here for college. But that tenure is soon coming to an end as Houston plans to relocate to La La Land.
But before he pulls up stakes, Houston felt compelled to put this show together. “I’ve always wanted to do a solo show with me fronting an entire band at the Music Hall,” he says. “I love that space, love that room. So I reached out to Charles (Carmody) about it.”
The show Houston has developed is uniquely his own. “I wanted to do a show of all piano singers,” he says. “People like Elton John, Billy Joel, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder. And then some people that (are less known), like Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers. (He’s an) amazing piano player and he wrote a lot of those songs that the Doobie Brothers did on piano. So I definitely want to showcase his music.”
The show is put together in three different parts. The first section is The Sound of Love, followed by The Sound of Classics, and closing with The Sound of Me. “The first section, I’ll be doing all love songs,” says Houston. “Second section, I’ll be doing all the songs from black composers that I heard growing up. And the last section, I’ll be doing all songs that make me happy—that I like to perform in general. That section’s going to be a lot of fun.”
One can imagine the daunting task of narrowing down the swath of music composed by piano singers, and compiling a choice few into one cohesive night of music. “That was a really long process,” says Houston. “I didn’t want to do only popular songs, because like I said, I want to do songs that I like to play, but I definitely didn’t want to be doing things too obscure that the audience couldn’t enjoy.”
"The Sound of Ivory" is more than just a concert. It’s a multimedia affair, utilizing photos and videos to be paired with the music. “I’m always the type of person that doesn’t like to just sit and play music,” says Houston. “I have to do more than that. I want the audience to have all their senses engaged.”
It’s a fitting way for Houston to say farewell to the Holy City. He has become ubiquitous in the local music scene over the past few years, but most of his gigs come with certain stipulations. “Playing weddings and bars all the time, you kind have to cater to other people’s needs.”
Houston would rather cater to his artistic sensibilities, which is part of his reason for moving to Los Angeles. “When I get to L.A. I’ll be working on original music and a couple of other project ideas I have.”
And Houston seems fearless about the move. “I’m excited to see what happens,” he says. “I’m always up for a challenge.”