As Baltimore School for the Arts students made their way to the William Donald Schaefer Ballroom on Friday, the building buzzed with anticipation of who would take the stage.
Janiah Faulkner, 16, guessed it would a band of some sort, and by the looks of the people she saw flooding into the building, Tsering Cole, 15, guessed it must have been someone important.
Minutes later, Janet Jackson’s band and two of her dancers graced the auditorium’s stage. The crowd errupted in screams of excitement.
Jackson is scheduled to perform at Royal Farms Arena Saturday night as part of her “State of the World Tour.” School for the Arts alumnus Dontae Winslow arranged for the band to visit his alma mater.
Jackson’s crew of artists and musicians — which includes music director Daniel Jones, guitarist Errol Cooney, drummer John “Lil’ John” Roberts and DJ Aktive — stopped by the school to perform and offer inspiration for the arts students.
The surprise show kicked off with Winslow introducing the crew, followed by a performance from student band Impulse Sexton, which played a jazzy rendition of “Alone Together” by Arthur Schwartz. Jackson’s band offered praise and critiques.
Jackson’s band then performed their own rendition “Where Are You Now” with vocalist Rebecca James and answered questions from the audience about their training backgrounds, their sometimes grueling schedules and stage fright.
Roberts said nerves can work to the musician’s advantage, enhancing the performance. Sometimes if you aren’t nervous, it’s a sign that “something’s not right.”
Added Jones, “You will find strength in your vulnerability … Put your work in and don’t be afraid to pull your layers down.”
Jones, who was also a musical director for Justin Timberlake, and the other musicians advised students to differentiate themselves and to constantly work on their craft.
“There’s a million people that can do what we do … so you have to make sure you standout,” Roberts said. Vocalist Onitsha Shaw added that it was important to be a good person, which resounded with Nyckos Rone, 17.
“It’s one thing to have a type of skill,” Nyckos said, but it can only take you so far if you’re not a good person.
Toward the end of the Q&A session, students convinced dancers Mishay Petronelli and Denzel Chisolm to perform a routine to Jackson’s song “Feedback.”
Afterward, the artists stuck around to take photos with energetic groups of students.
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