How do you stop being defined by “covers” and become your own artist? -asks Petra Tool
Johnny Rosenberg came to my portrait studio, dressed in a T-shirt, waistcoat, jeans, sneakers, wristbands and necklaces.
When he started to sing a couple of quiet, tender jazzy songs, accompanying himself on his guitar, I was pleasantly surprised.
This was quite a different Johnny from the one I had watched perform in a jazz club, singing Michael Bublé songs with a small band.
The Johnny in my studio did not remind me of Bublé.
He was as unique and as authentic as could be; I could easily imagine him and his gypsy family making music at campfires on warm summer evenings (see the full sized image below…).
After the posing session, Johnny told me about his childhood.
Being born and raised in a gypsy camp, surrounded by his musically gifted family, it was no surprise he learned to play the guitar at a very young age: “Everybody joins, when you pick up your guitar at the camp”, he said.
From age twelve Johnny and his cousin Jimmy were a member of the very popular “Gypsy Kids”.
They were contracted by Sony Columbia, and played opening acts for famous artists like James Brown and Mariah Carey.
But when kids became adults, they all went their separate ways.
Singing His Own Song
His second successful period started when he discovered his talent for singing.
He came in third at the National Song Contest with “When Forever Ends”, a self composed Ricky Martin style pop song.
Unfortunately, the success didn’t last.
Because of his Bublé-like voice and looks, he started performing, all suited up, as the “Dutch Michael Bublé”.
And a couple of weeks after finishing my portrait of Johnny, he participated in a very popular TV talent contest.
The TV show not only got him a lot of free publicity for his Bublé act, but also fulfilled one of his wildest dreams: meeting his inspiration.
But how to proceed from here?
Johnny: “I’ve always dreamt of performing in theatres with a big-band, just like Bublé, singing a mix of American Songbook, pop, jazz and Latin styles… Figuring out my own identity and blending it all into one fluent show will be difficult though.”
Authenticity versus Imitation
Like Johnny, all artists are to a greater or lesser extent influenced by other artists.
We take inspiration and learn from them.
But unless it’s your ambition to be an impersonator, you’d better emphasize your own characteristics to set you apart from the person you admire.
Only then you can rise above imitation.
So What’s Your Identity?
Your identity is defined by the unique way you mix and match your most distinctive skills, traits, talents, passions and fascinations.
I think of identity like a composition of a recipe for a soup.
Pick your best flavors and experiment with the amount of each ingredient.
Keep playing around with the components until you have your own tasteful harmonious soup.
I’m confident Johnny will find a way to melt his smooth voice, gypsy heritage, guitar playing talent, love of various music styles and attraction to Bublé into an entertaining show.
What that will look and sound like, only he himself can figure out.
But to me, the one and only Johnny Rosenberg will always be that unpretentious gypsy guy, singing and playing guitar for me in my studio…
Petra Tool is a Dutch artist and artistic coach. A gifted portrait artist, she explores the personalities of gifted performers, interviewing them about their talent, passions, the problems they face, their insecurities and secrets of their success. You can find more information on her website
Painting: Campfire Songs – 70×90 cm – watercolour – Petra Tool