After hearing a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” in the neighborhood public library, an impressed neighbor approached a four-year-old Nubia Dickerson and told her that she had sung almost as well as Houston. Without so much as a pause, Dickerson replied, “Really? I thought I sang better.” This was act one: the curtain draw.
p. While the road has not always been easy, Dickerson, now a sophomore at the College, has seemingly been headed for stardom as a vocalist and singer since she was able to hold a microphone. Now, 15 years after outperforming Houston, whether through confidence mixed with a dream or exuberant energy mixed with a keen awareness for her culture and her music, this prediction appears to be coming true.
p. After working with her mother at World Space Satellite Radio in Silver Spring, Md., Dickerson met Gregg Diggs, a producer with aspirations of starting his own record label. Her voice, the result of years of training and passion, impressed Diggs, who almost instantly offered to sign her to his new label, Geez Dreems entertainment. One year removed from this first encounter, while balancing the rigorous schedule of any student at the College, her debut CD, “Let Me Introduce Myself,” is slated for a June release. Dickerson’s critically acclaimed single, “I Feel the Beat,” will be available on iTunes in the coming weeks. In fact, the song has been so hyped that in a club promoters’ March release of recommendations for D.C. area DJs, her single was rated higher than upcoming songs by MIMS, Tha Dogg Pound and Snoop Dogg.
p. Such dreams are realized through effort, courage, resilience and a little bit of luck to boot. But like the stories of many successful musicians and artists, her story begins with her roots.
p. Dickerson’s mother first conceived the name Nubia when she saw a group of figurines in an Egyptian museum 10 years before the birth of her daughter. The figurines were reminiscent of the culture of an ancient, independent kingdom called Nubia, located in what is now Northern Suday. Her mother — a native of Ethiopia who came to the United States when she was 17 — has been instrumental in educating and instilling in her daughter a distinct pride and knowledge about her background.
p. “My mom made a big effort to make sure that we knew who we were from a very young age,” Dickerson said. “She surrounded me with culture, with food, with the language.” When she was eight years old, Dickerson’s mother, who has been tremendously active in promoting and disseminating the cultural heritage of her country, took her daughter to Ethiopia. “I’ve been places that people who have lived there [for] their entire lives haven’t been,” Dickerson said.
p. Her appreciation and awareness has grown with the hurdles that her mother and other family members have been forced to jump over the years. “I always saw that my mom faced adversity in the things that she was trying to do, which was promoting Ethiopian culture amidst famine,” she said.
p. These challenges, along with Dickerson’s own encounters with race and prejudice as a high school music and theater performer, helped produce the wit, voice and resilience that landed her a record deal last fall.
p. And then there was the music. Her grandfather had been a saxophonist and the director of a high school marching band in Prairie View, Tex. — her father, a clarinet player during his early years and a lifetime jazz enthusiast. “He continuously played jazz music in the house,” she said. “My dad gave me a couple of tapes and said, ‘I want you to learn these songs.”
p. At age four, she told her mother that all she wanted to do in life was to sing. Her mother obliged by introducing Dickerson to Shirley Smith, a voice instructor, and she underwent six years of classical training while simultaneously experimenting with several other styles of music.
p. Act two came at age 14, when Dickerson’s family was preparing to move from Fort Washington, Md. to Silver Spring, 40 miles north. Facing separation from Smith — her teacher and mentor — and with just one final recital left, Dickerson improvised at the last minute to make sure that it would be a memorable finale.
p. “I was supposed to sing ‘Once Upon a December’ from ‘Anastasia,’ and it just didn’t sit well with me,” she said. “We got up there, and I said, ‘Hold on, I’m not going to sing this song. Excuse me everybody, we’re just going to have a change in plans. I’m going to sing another song, and it’s by Nancy Wilson, so here we go.’”
p. While this change of plans may have seemed somewhat surprising to members of the audience, it was nowhere near as surprising as what was to follow. In a memorable performance, Dickerson “sang her little heart out,” and the results stunned the onlookers in the church, including her parents, grandparents and other family members.
p. “The acoustics were amazing,” she said. “They [my family] were all completely floored. My step-mom told me later that my dad was crying. Ever since, that song was the one that showed people that I actually had what it takes to be a real vocalist.”
p. Although she had what it took at 14, there was still left room for improvement, which she found at Silver Spring’s John F. Kennedy High School. It was here that she began to try her hand in musical theater, illustrating her talents in prominent roles including Ruth in “Raisin” and Dorothy in “The Wiz.” Her performances on stage, coupled with her time spent in several local choirs, helped her achieve local notoriety and included several offers for professional opportunities while she was still in high school.
p. Years later, act three seems to have arrived. She describes the feeling as surreal. “It still hasn’t all registered yet,” she said. “It’s ridiculous having all these dreams for such a long time and having them materialize right in front of you.”
p. Even in the face of blowing up, Dickerson says she has not really thought that far ahead. She remains focused on school, which she says is her number one priority. “My family would kick my behind if I didn’t finish school,” she said. “I’m just attempting to take it all in and take it in stride.”
p. With a firm foundation and a desire to produce music that is meaningful, it seems that she may have been right about Whitney Houston after all. Stay tuned for act four.