Christyles Bacon of Southeast Washington has a Grammy-nominated album
Growing up in a tough neighborhood of Southeast Washington, Christon Bacon was surrounded by crime and even spent some time living in homeless shelters with his family. He never imagined he would someday be nominated for a Grammy, the top award in the music industry. And he certainly never thought he would get such recognition for making a children's album.
But last month, Bacon, 23, became part of a musical trio earning a Grammy nomination for the toe-tapping kids' album "Banjo to Beatbox," which brings together a wide range of music styles with funny lyrics and catchy beats.
As a kid, Bacon didn't plan on a music career. His talent was always in visual art, so he went to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District with hopes of becoming a graphic designer. "I was always good on rendering, on drawing," he said.
Bacon had also done music on the side, and by high school he was developing a following for his hip-hop sound, clever and funny rap lyrics and amazing beatbox talent, in which he uses his own mouth to make percussion-style sounds. As a musician, he became known as "Christylez Bacon" (pronounced "Chris-STYLES"), and music took over as his career once he graduated from high school.
The "Banjo to Beatbox" project grew out of a jam session at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, where Bacon was a visiting artist performing to sold-out shows. Local musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer were artists in residence at Strathmore at the time, helping visiting musicians. The duo are talented banjo players who have done many children's albums together, winning two Grammy Awards of their own. They "immediately saw how talented Chris was," Fink explained, and asked him to jam with them.
The unlikely threesome started throwing together a bunch of their own sounds, making the music up as they went along. To the banjo rhythms, Bacon added elements of hip-hop, reggae, Brazilian music and his own beatbox sounds. "It was cool," Bacon said. "I'm all about bringing together different audiences and different people, breaking down cultures and stereotypes."
Deciding to make a children's album together was a natural step. Bacon was already volunteering in D.C. public schools, helping kids in his old neighborhood work on their creative writing and expression. Bacon doesn't use any bad language in his rap music. Profanity, he says, "cuts off communication," because it gives people an excuse not to listen to the messages in his music.
When the Grammy Awards are given out Sunday, Bacon will be in California hoping to bring home a trophy.
-- Margaret Webb Pressler