Saturday, February 27, 2016

My friend Laith

Image from "sneak peek" of The Voice with what appears to be Pharrell Williams coming up to say something to Laith.

On Monday, February 29th my friend Laith Al-Saadi will be on the TV show "The Voice."  I've known Laith since I was five years old.  When I found out that he was about to be "famous" - it made me think about our friendship - and I made a few observations that I thought would be worth sharing.  Especially since eventually he'll need votes - and I think the more you know about Laith the more you are going to want to vote for him.

Laith and I met at Zion Lutheran Church because we both sang in the choir.  To be honest, even though we were around each other a lot from the time we were in kindergarten until we graduated high school - we didn't really become good friends until the beginning of high school.  I have never really thought about why that was - but, this opportunity of his on "The Voice" kind of made me come to grips with why I didn't think of him as a friend when we were younger.  I saw him as a threat.

To explain that a little bit further - my dad is a high school choir teacher.  My father's mentor was Dr. Donald Williams - the organist and choir master at our church.  I was a pretty decent singer when I was younger and so was Laith.  Who was going to sing "Once in Royal David's City" on Christmas eve?  While we were still boy sopranos it usually was between me and Laith.  Who was going to get a lead in the production of Gilbert and Sullivan?  Laith and I usually shared the same role. 

He was in the well respected Ann Arbor Boys Choir.  I was in the Ann Arbor Youth Chorale - a group that was created by my dad.  I can remember one year when I was given a role of the page in Concordia University's yearly production of The Boar's Head Festival.  Laith came to one of the performances.  I can still remember that I specifically wanted to sing well to show off to Laith.

As we got older I started to be more interested in sports than I was music.  And to be honest - I just wasn't as good of a singer once I hit puberty.  Laith on the other hand grew as a musician in a big way.  I can remember hanging out at his house about 6 months after he started playing the guitar when we were 15 years old.  There wasn't a song I could name that he couldn't play.  At that point I threw in the towel.  I would never be the musician that Laith would be.  Luckily at that point I had other things going on where I could focus my ridiculous competitiveness.

Another part of our blooming friendship was our mutual friend Erik.  Erik's dad was one of our pastors.  I had been good friends with Erik since I was five and Erik was six.  Many times the only reason I hung out with Laith, was because I wanted to hang out with Erik.  But, Erik's dad took a job at a church in Grosse Pointe, MI when we were in Junior High.  Given that our common friend was no longer living in town Laith and I started hanging out much more together. 

Laith eventually started a Blue's group called "Blue Vinyl."  At the age of 16 his band was playing at Rick's CafĂ© - once of the major college hangouts in Ann Arbor.  He would get me into his gigs at Rick's by claiming that I was their "roadie" - all 125 pounds of me.  I went to a different high school than Laith - so I sold their CD's to my friends. 

Most importantly - Laith was my friend who I called when I was feeling down.  Not that Laith and I had deep talks about our feelings necessarily - but there was something about being around Laith that made me feel better.  Laith's incredible intelligence and creativity expanded my world.  Being around Laith reminded me that there is a big, beautiful universe of experiences out there - and he many times brought me out of the self obsessed funk that afflicts many teenagers and young adults.

Laith has made it as a professional musician for his entire adult life.  He is an integral part of the Ann Arbor and Detroit music scene.  I've been proud of what he's been able to accomplish as a musician.  But this is a much larger opportunity than he has had before.  I'm excited for him, but I also know that these contests can many times be about things other than talent. 

A few years ago Laith played at my parents' 40th anniversary party.  My father, who has a doctorate in vocal performance from University of Michigan, went up to him afterwards and told him that he was the most talented musician that he has ever been around.  Laith seemed genuinely touched.  Regardless of what happens I want Laith to remember what my dad said that day.  He is an incredible musician, but he is an even better friend.  I wish him the best of luck and I hope that everybody reading this will vote for him.

And remember Laith - if you ever need to show them your musical range - I am always available to come out to LA and sing "We're called Gondolieri"!

Here is Laith singing one of my favorite originals of his - "Gone."


Jacob Stempky said...

Thanks for sharing Ben!!

herecomesthesun said...

I enjoyed reading this. I vaguely remember we were teammates on the Slauson Middle School track team!

Looking forward to watching Laith on The Voice and supporting him!