Q&A: Audra McDonald Set to Perform with the San Francisco Symphony

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The New York Times calls Audra McDonald a “one-of-a-kind musical super-talent.” She’s won a record-breaking six Tony Awards, two Grammy Awards, and an Emmy Award, making her the most decorated performer in American theater. Audra is set to perform with the SF Symphony this coming Friday, May 18, in a one-night-only performance, presenting renditions of Broadway classics and contemporary musical theater works.

In anticipation of her performance, the musical theater phenom was gracious enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to chat with our Musical Theater Correspondent Gavin Delgado. They talked about her upcoming recording with the New York Philarmonic, what she likes about performing on the West coast, and what’s the best piece of advice that she’s ever gotten and continues to live by today.

I just want to start off by saying that we’ve met a million years ago. You were singing with the San Francisco Symphony and it was right after Carousel. The dress you had sent over was damaged and you came into Sacks and I found you a dress.
Oh my goodness!

It was a burgundy strapless velvet ball gown.
Yes, Oscar de la Renta I think. Thank you for saving me!

I want to say congratulations on “Sing Happy.” I love it. I understand it’s the first time you recorded with a full orchestra. How did that come about?
Decca Gold was interested in working with me, and we knew we had this concert coming up with the Phil (New York Philharmonic), and I’ve always wanted to do a live album. You know, one doesn’t get the opportunity to sing with the NY Phil every day. And so it was just an opportunity we had to jump on. Let’s hope that it goes well, and if it does, we’ve got ourselves an album.

Was it all done in one evening?

Audra McDonald

It’s recorded so well, and I love the fact that the applause doesn’t overshadow everything.
Thanks so much. It’s amazing how quickly it all came together. Everyone worked so hard.

I never realized that you had never recorded “Vanilla Ice Cream.”
Yep, that’s my first time.

“Vanilla Ice Cream” and “Children Will Listen.” Are you going to be performing those on tour?
Yes! In fact, I’ll be performing them in about three hours here in Santa Barbara.

And on Friday here in San Francisco!

You’ve appeared about 20 times with the New York Philharmonic, and you’re a big favorite here with the San Francisco Symphony. How do the two experiences differ?
You know, I think that there’s a different feel with the two orchestras. But, I don’t even know that I could put it into words exactly what that means. I feel like I have a good report with both orchestras because I’ve performed with them so many times, with different conductors. I just feel very comfortable with both. I don’t ever really get super nervous, especially when I’m with the San Francisco Symphony. I just always feel like it’s a safe place to go in and make some music and have a good time. I just feel like the orchestra is always so open and brilliant and warm with me. It always feels like a bit of a homecoming when I come there. And whatever I throw at them — they got it!

Well, you do very well here. In fact, you always sell out. You’re doing quite a few dates on the West coast. Do you enjoy performing on this side of the country?
Well, it’s my home state you know, so yes, I do. What I try to do when I come out here is pack them all in together because it’s such a long journey for me. Especially now that I have a little one. It’s easier for me to pack all the dates together rather than fly back and forth a million different times.

You’re not doing your hometown, are you?
Yes, I am. I’ll be doing Fresno close towards the end of the month.

Before I let you go, I have one last question for you. What is the best piece of advice personally or professionally that you still abide by today?
Tell the truth and everything that that encompasses. That means be who you are. Don’t try to sound like anyone else. And tell the truth up there as an artist. The truth will set you free. That’s what I really try to abide by.

Audra McDonald is set to perform with the San Francisco Symphony for one night only, this coming Friday, May 18 at 8 PM. Purchase tickets HERE.

Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony 


An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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