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The man behind Three Mo' Tenors

16 Feb 2006

Although he is rarely seen in the spotlight he is the man behind Three Mo’ Tenors. Choreographer and director Marion J. Caffey was born in Gainsville, Florida and lives in New York with his wife and two children. He is a former actor having done that for 14 years. He helped in the direction and choreography of Da Kink in My Hair by Trey Anthony, taking it to San Diego. He also directed and choreographed Cooking at the Cookery-the Music and Times of Alberta Hunter by Jackie Richardson and was nominated three times for Ain’t Misbehavin’.

The Three Mo’ Tenors concert, one of latest works hits Toronto this Saturday. It celebrates the versatility that the African-American tenor has had to nurture as well as the high merit he has created.

The Three Mo' Tenors: Duane A. Moody, Phumzile Sojola and James Berger.


The music ranges through opera, show tunes, jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and spirituals; the three tenors sing music associated with everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Gladys Knight, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and Luther Vandross. Caffey’s wife is a Broadway actress currently performing in the House of Bernarda Alba with Phylicia Rashad (Clare Huxtable in the Cosby show) at the Lincoln Centre until April 2006. His 20 year old son is a professional model. When I sat down with him for an interview, he was babysitting his sleeping 2-year old daughter.

How did you come up with the concept of Three Mo’ Tenors?

I was watching the Three Mo’ Tenors live at Dodger Stadium live in Los Angeles a few years ago. They did a big concert. As I watched, what struck me was the lack of versatility of the artists. They had moved from classical-you know Pavarotti sounds towards Broadway and I found them so stiff for Broadway. It struck me that I knew of African American artists more versatile in other styles but yet they were classically trained. I spent years exploring the possibilities and this is what came of it.

How have you been received worldwide?

Better than I could have ever hoped for. Lovers of music of any style were impressed by the vocal athletes. No one is giving you 400 years of music with 8 different musical styles coming out of the same vocal chords.

The way you describe is almost sounds poetic….

Watching them is poetry. Watching them is poetic. It’s like watching athletes displaying their athletic prowess-you know sprint, long distance and hurdles-only apply it to music. What separates the Three Mo’ Tenors from a lot of other musicians of their genre is that they cross a lot of styles; they do all the eight operatic styles of music. This is unique to people of African heritage. I used to say African American heritage but we do have a South African tenor now, so I broaden the expression to African heritage.

As far as traveling and performance, what has been the best experience for you?

That’s a hard one. I cannot say best because essentially each experience has been different. Each day brings a reason to be inspired by the concept and performance. What comes to mind is today Three Mo’ Tenors performed in front of a group of kids from ages ranging from 8-20. I was really proud of that. I mean these kids listened to opera, jazz, soul, new school, blues, spirituals and I watched them screaming in excitement, dancing and waving their hands in the air. It was really an exciting day! We thought that we would lose the interest of the young kids but we obviously underestimated them. They loved it! It was not so foreign to them that they rejected it.

I have noticed that you stay out of the spotlight. People know that you wrote and directed the Three Mo’ Tenors concert, but other than that, most of the limelight is on the tenors. Why is that?

Because I do not need to be in the public eye. I want to leave something positive on this earth; it’s my calling and I do not need the applause. It’s a gift and it’s up to me to use it responsibly. If I wanted all the limelight I would have continued as an actor. What I get out of this is the joy; other peoples joy. I stand at that back of theatres and see the response to the lines I wrote or to a move I choreographed and that brings me joy. I don’t think I need to be at the forefront because it’s really about the tenors. I have the idea but the tenors bring it to life. Ultimately I cannot sing a note. But art is a collaborative form. For this concert I need the crew, dressers tenors, producers, money and so much more. I mean even you are a part of it because you are putting this in print so that people can know about us.

Why 3 tenors and not 5 or 10?

Because someone had already gotten the idea and it worked. Three was a good number and at the time they were a hot ticket. However, because of vocal demand, we need more than one cast. We have 2 casts of the tenors. We are doing some of the biggest arias in the opera world which means that the tenors need to rest. So we alternate them so that they can rest their voices. We give them as much rest as possible because we have to take care of the talent.

For the longest of times the classical music world has been dominated by women especially when it comes to blacks. How have you overcome that?

We haven’t. It’s still dominated by women. You can barely name two working black tenors. What I originally had in mind was to launch people into another platform. But what I realized is that this is on a separate platform of its own. This whole project has become its own animal. The Three Mo’ Tenors are not just limited to one thing, which is opera but they are also performing in arias which they were not allowed to before. One of the tenors for example is in Italy singing opera. He started out as one of the tenors. However the other ones do not want to leave because they get to perform more.

What can Toronto expect from Three Mo’ Tenors this weekend?

Come expecting the unexpected. I guarantee that they’ve never seen this before! Come expecting to see joy, love, education, enlightenment, great music, great vocals, great acoustics. Also expect our new sister act-Three Mo’ Divas sometime next year. So far we are booked in Edmonton for October-November 2006.

You were also an actor? Did you enjoy it?

Yes. I absolutely loved it. But when I left it I did not want to go back and it was a good thing because what I am doing is fun.

Being an actor is not easy…

No it’s not but nothing in life is easy. What I am doing is not easy either because a lot of people’s livelihood depend on me. Any work is not easy, but I am doing what I love and its fun. I have been blessed with my family life; I have an excellent loving support system.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in following your footsteps?

You have to follow your dream. Don’t let others tell you no. However I agree with parents who advise their children to follow their dreams but make sure that they take care of themselves. You need to participate in your welfare and expect responsibility. Explore your dreams and opportunities, but do it responsibly. Freedom is very expensive, but takes your freedom and explore. Freedom is not free. It has a very high price. However freedom does not mean that you should harm others.

The Three Mo'' Tenors perform at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (George Weston Recital Hall 5040 Yonge Street) on Saturday February 18th, 2006 at 8 pm. For tickets, call ticketmaster at 416.872.1111 or visit www.ticketmaster.ca.

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