HAVING recently attended the nightclub debut of...


HAVING recently attended the nightclub debut of an exciting local talent, we now can better appreciate what all the fuss was about last year when she abruptly quit one of the world's top music conservatories.

Last November, an article in the Sunday Sun Magazine detailed the career of a budding East Baltimore opera diva named Keyontia Hawkins (pronounced "Key-ON-ta").

Ms. Hawkins graduated from Baltimore's School for the Arts in 1992 and won a full scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, which she attended for two years. Although she possessed a blazing talent, her insistence on singing jazz and pop as well as the standard classical repertoire apparently displeased some of her teachers.

Many music teachers believe the differing techniques required to sing classical and pop music make conflicting demands on the voice that are potentially harmful. Such considerations eventually led to a break between Ms. Hawkins and Juilliard. In January, she enrolled in the music program at Catholic University in Washington.

So naturally we were intrigued when we saw a flier announcing that Ms. Hawkins would perform with the band Ovation at Whitten's nightclub in East Baltimore last Saturday. The group plays a mixture of progressive jazz and urban contemporary pop.

At the appointed hour, Ms. Hawkins appeared resplendent in a scarlet gown and proceeded to bring the house down with her throaty jazz stylings and gospel-tinged numbers reminiscent of Anita Baker.

Having previously known her mostly from the rarefied world of grand opera, we were stunned -- and pleasantly surprised -- by her polished assurance and poise in the role of torch singer.

We left thinking that whichever Ms. Hawkins ultimately chooses as her primary metier -- classical or jazz -- fans of the other surely will have cause to regret what they are missing.

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