It was Morning in America yesterday for Tyrone Ford. Just the night before, President Reagan had extolled the 12-year-old choir and gospel singer on national television in his State of the Union address.
"We see the dream glow in the towering talent . . .," said the chief executive. "With God as your composer, Tyrone, your music will be the music of angels."
Knock this American morning at the modest brick house just off Georgia Avenue, two doors away from a Little Tavern, and Tyrone, a short spark of a person, opens the door. The handshake is light and crisp at the same time. He is dressed in gray flannel pants, a blue shirt and gray tie and a blue jacket. One hand is occasionally planted in a trouser pocket. Sure he'd love to talk, he says, but "I'm expecting Channel 4 any time."
Tyrone leads three church choirs -- The Fellowship Echoes of his own Fellowship Baptist Church, the Guiding Lights of the Christian Tabernacle, and "I can't think of the sw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 other choir." He rehearses them one Saturday each a month. The singers range from age 4 to 13, he says, and "I tell them, 'If you're not singing, I'll just stop the music . . .'
"I treat 'em nice. I don't say, 'Sing now' and act like a grown-up. I ask them, 'If you're going to sing, sing.' "
He speaks matter-of-factly, checking a black digital wristwatch from time to time. He isn't at school today, he says, "because this is kinda busy today."
The TV teams are filling the little house. "There was Channel 4," says a cousin. "Now there's 5." Tyrone introduces Minister Isaac White, a 24-year-old preacher who lives upstairs as his "business manager and PR man."
"He's kidding," says White, a gentle and cordial man. "He considers me that, but I'm here to help him."
Tyrone says he can talk while the first video crew sets up. He has been playing the piano for eight years, he says, and no one taught him. Asked how he got to know the keys, he taps the side of his head with a forefinger and says, "A gift."
It first showed itself, he says, when he was 4. During a break in a church service, he approached a lady sitting at the piano and told her he could play exactly what she could. "I already knew," he says.
"Without any lessons, that is true," says White, who says he was there. "He just started picking out the piano. She played 'Leaning on the Everlasting Arm,' and he picked that right on up."
It's true, says Tyrone's grandmother and guardian Burter Carelock, later. "He was so little he could hardly get up on the piano . . . He played the whole song.' "
An orphan, he has lived in this house with his grandmother all his life. They share the house with cousins -- a house total of seven. He never knew his father, he says, and "I knew my mother. She just didn't want me, so I went with my grandmother." His mother has since died, he says, although "I don't know when."
"It's a complicated story," says Carelock. "We don't talk about it."
Tyrone does not seem wistful for lost family. What matters most to him, he says, is his musical career: "to be a composer and perform my compositions." He practices his own music an hour a day except Fridays, is taking sight-reading lessons and leads the choirs three hours at a time on Saturdays. "I want to make my record, but I'm not ready yet. I have to have more songs and, you know, really learn them without making mistakes."
"The young man plays marvelous," says White with unmistakable pride. "He's extraordinary. You could always see he had star potential."
The president heard about Tyrone, says the musician, because "he saw an article on me in The Washingtonian. And probably because I'm helping people come to church."
"Two people came over to my house" last week, says Tyrone. "They told me Reagan wanted to see me . . . They said, 'Don't tell nobody. Keep it a secret.' "
He showed up on the first scheduled day of the State of the Union, but was sent home after the Challenger tragedy. When he returned Wednesday night, it was the real thing -- he got a testimonial a Fortune 500 company couldn't buy.
When he returns to school today, he says, his classmates will probably ask him, "Where've you been?" And he'll tell them, "I've been out."
But it's time now for the TV interview. "Thank you for coming," says Tyrone, and he walks with what will in months be an accomplished professional swagger to the living room.
Tyrone's 8-year-old cousin Meshaw Farmer is fidgeting by the front door as Tyrone talks to the camera behind closed doors. "Tyrone did that," she says, pointing to a sand-and-glue painting on the vestibule wall. "He did almost everything except this." She indicates two little paint blobs. Beach balls, she explains.
Behind the living room doors, Tyrone is singing and playing at the piano: "His name is Jesus. I'm happy just to know that I'm his child."
"Tyrone's a trip," she says. "He cries if you don't let him go to church. He just sit up, and he love to throw a tantrum."
She does not elucidate. "He's a boy," says a passing aunt, Toni Ford. "You know how they go."
"No one taught me," Tyrone can be heard insisting in the living room. "I was inspired."