Saying Goodbye To The Kojo Nnamdi Show
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes singer and actor Eleasha Gamble to the show on Monday, March 22 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids and teens can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
Whether it’s a show tune, gospel or a ballad, Eleasha Gamble thrills audiences with a melodic, powerful voice that has landed her big roles in “Oliver” at the Arena Stage and “Into The Woods” at The Kennedy Center, among other productions.
We welcome her to the show and the students from our “schools of the week,” Duke Ellington School For The Arts in Northwest Washington and Gamble’s alma mater, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland.
We look forward to their questions for Eleasha Gamble, and we want to hear your questions too — if you’re a kid or teen.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 23 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
KOJO NNAMDIThat strong, beautiful voice belongs to today's guest, Eleasha Gamble, who recorded "Ever After" from the musical "Into the Woods" with singers from Strathmore's Young Artists of America Program. Eleasha Gamble has performed important roles on some of the country's biggest stages, including the Kennedy Center. She's here today to talk about how a kid growing up in Tacoma Park can go on to a successful career in musical theater.
KOJO NNAMDIWe also welcome the students of our schools of the week, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington, and Eleasha Gamble's own alma mater, Out Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Maryland. Eleasha Gamble, welcome to the program.
ELEASHA GAMBLEOh, thank you so much for having me. It's an absolute honor and a delight. Thank you.
NNAMDIOh, the honor and delight is mine. We'll talk about singing and acting in a minute but first, let's hear about when you were a kid. We know you're from Tacoma Park. Tell us about where you born and where you grew up.
GAMBLEYeah, I was born in D.C., at the Washington Hospital Center, and raised in Tacoma Park, Maryland which is right over the District border, in the Maryland side. I went to public school. So, I went to East Silver Spring, and then Piney Branch Elementary, Tacoma Middle School. And then I went to Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, which, at the time, was in Wheaton, Maryland. And then I decided to pursue musical theater and went to the Catholic University of American, right there in D.C. But thanks to my mom, in particular, I was bit pretty early by the artist bug.
NNAMDIYes. You've talked about pursuing theater, but how did you first discover you loved the theater? I guess with the help of your mom.
GAMBLEYeah, my mom really, you know, encouraged the love of the arts. You know, she would take us to see shows at the Kennedy Center. She would take us to see ballet. She really encouraged that. And I remember when I was a little kid sitting on her lap in the back row watching "The Whiz" national tour, or seeing "Phantom of the Opera" when it came through. But so many shows, "Sarafina!".
GAMBLEI think she realized that I really enjoyed it, and just kept bringing me to the theater, kept letting me do things. And then I also sang at an early age, and sang in the church choir, as well, and was always kind of involved with plays or music of some sort since elementary school, really.
NNAMDIWell, we're going to have to take a short break, but when we come back, we'll continue this conversation. I am Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Kojo for Kids with Eleasha Gamble, actor and singer, has performed major roles in productions at the Kennedy Center, the Arena Stage and other theaters. Eleasha, the kids are lined up on the phones to talk to you, but first, I've got to hear one story. At one point, it was my understanding, when you were a very young actor, you played a cat.
NNAMDIAnd it is my understanding that you still remember a line or two from that play. How old were you, what was it, and could you do a line or two for us?
GAMBLEYeah, no, when I was in third grade we were doing "The Bremen Town Musicians," and I was cast as the cat, for one show only. You know, back then, you know, at that age you have to share the role. But I can still remember my solo line as the cat, which was: (singing) I may be older, so I'm told, but I can still do many things. I won't catch mice. They seem so nice, and with my voice, I'll try to sing. On the way to Bremen Town, won't let life get me down. (laugh)
NNAMDIThat is absolutely amazing that you can still...
GAMBLESee, it just shows just how important those little moments, when we're really young, how they shape and form your life. That was huge.
NNAMDIYou remember it word for word.
GAMBLEWord for word. I also remember like, you know, after the show was over and, you know, once I got dressed back into my regular clothes how, like, the exhilaration I felt running back out knowing that I'd have my fans there waiting. And it's interesting how much that one moment in time kind of informed the rest of my life.
NNAMDIThat is absolutely amazing, but here are kids who want to talk to you. Let's start with 16-year-old Josh from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. Hi, Josh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSHOh, hi. My question is: How did you balance college studies and act in professional theater at the same time?
GAMBLEYeah. It was hard, because I started professionally acting my freshman year in college. Thankfully, at Catholic University, at the time, I don't know what the case is, if they still do, we had to do internships, where they wanted us to go out and be paid as performers. So, because it was a job that was paid, they gave me a lot of latitude to be able to kind of help juggle some of that. So, like, some classes I had to leave early, and teachers knew and were accepting of that.
GAMBLEBut you just have to work a lot harder, you know, because you are -- even though you're working, which is great, you know, you still want to pass your classes and you still want to graduate. So, you just have to, you know, burn the candle at both ends, you know, basically. You just have to keep your nose to the grindstone. You have to work really, really hard. It's just a matter of juggling all those things and realizing that all of it is important, and that nothing can kind of slip through the cracks. You've just got to work hard.
NNAMDIThanks, Josh. Here now is seven-year-old Brady, in Virginia. Brady, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRADYMy question for you is: What gave you the thought to be an actor and singer?
GAMBLEYou know, I always liked doing it, but I would say, when I was in high school, when I was cast as -- when I was a freshman, and I was cast as the leading lady, as Nancy in "Oliver," that kind of was like a light bulb moment, that it was something that I loved to do, and I was good at. And that kind of made it seem like an easy fit. It comes from the heart. It's something I love to do. It's a passion. And I think if you really love what you do, it makes all the difference in the world.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Brady. Here now is 15-year-old Sebastian from Our Lady of Good Counsel. Sebastian, your turn.
SEBASTIANHi. I was just wondering what your biggest influence was.
GAMBLELet's see. You know, I mean, a lot of it are teachers. Like, you know, a big influence for me when I was at Good Counsel was a wonderful, wonderful assistant teacher, actually, for chorus. Her name was Betsy Reed. And she's one of the first people that kind of was, like, you know what? You can really sing. And it just -- just having her say that, someone who wasn't family and people I knew kind of earmarking that for me was a huge influence in my life. And she was near and dear, and she's since passed away, but she really made a big impression on me. And then mentors along the way and just people encouraging me.
NNAMDIWell, I heard that you tried out for the spring musical in your freshman year in college and did not get the part. How did you...
GAMBLEI know. I didn't get in.
NNAMDI...how did you respond to that disappointment? How did you move on?
GAMBLEYeah. You know, I didn't get in, and was kind of bummed. And my voice teacher, Jane Pashi Townsend, (sounds like) who was also my mentor, just encourage me and was like, you know, there's a theater in Olney that's auditioning for "Joseph." You should go out and audition for that. And so, I, you know, very green, didn't really have a resume. I asked my mom for headshots for Christmas, so I could go to the audition. Didn't even get an appointment and just showed up and ended up booking the lead character, the narrator in that. And that's because she just told me to go audition for it. You know, just try my luck, and it worked out.
NNAMDIThat's what they say, you know, you have to fail in order to succeed.
GAMBLEYes, you do. Very true.
NNAMDIHere now is 15-year-old Erica from Our Lady of Good Counsel. Erica, your turn.
ERICAHi. My question is: What is the most encouraging thing someone has told you?
GAMBLEI think it would go back to what Betsy said when she -- you know, she was assigned to just have me go through scales to decide what part, you know, in the chorus I would be, what vocal track. And she worked me all the way up through the scales and just told me that I was good at this, that I was a singer. And just having that encouragement really did kind of put me on the path that I am on today.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Erica. Here now is Endira in Cleveland, Ohio. Endira self-describes as being almost 10 years old. Endira, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ENDIRAMy question was: How was your first acting experience?
GAMBLEIt was amazing. I learned so much, and everyone was so nice and gave me so many pointers and really helped me be comfortable with being a professional actor. It was nothing but a wonderful experience, and I'm still friends with all of those people from my very first show all of those years ago. I was very lucky to be surrounded by great people.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Endira. Here is 17-year-old Yvonne from Our Lady of Good Counsel. Yvonne, your turn.
YVONNEHi. I was wondering if you have any tips for staying involved in theater in both after high school and in college.
GAMBLEAbsolutely. I mean, basically, anything that you can find, whether it's, you know, summer programs. I know, like, Young Artists of America is a great program. Now, they go from ages 9 through 12, as well as post-high school, as well. So, they are helping people with training, music theater classes, seminars, as well as helping people audition for college, particularly if you want to go into music theater.
GAMBLESo, I would say find programs that can really help you go on. So, you know, look at programs that have training classes. If you need to do dance classes, get dance classes. Try to get as much skills as possible to keep your game up. And then if you do decide to go for college, look at programs. There's lots of great programs out there.
GAMBLEBut, definitely, I would say Young Artists of America, particularly for Maryland, is a good tool to kind of help with your training. And they're -- YAA.org is their website. But those are run through friends that I met from my time at Good Counsel, and we've stayed together. And they have done some incredible things with that program. So, I would encourage you to take a look at that.
NNAMDIThank you for your call. Here is 16-year-old Noel from Good Counsel. Noel, your turn.
NOELHi. My question was: What's your most memorable audition story?
GAMBLEOoh. Probably my first show, when I did for "Joseph" over at Olney Theater, because I had no idea what I was doing. I just kind of showed up. I didn't have an appointment. And I remember handing my brand-new headshot and resume to the monitor, and she walked it over to them. And then I remember just seeing all of these heads kind of poke out and look at me, and then they looked at my resume. And they were like, yeah, let her come and audition. (laugh)
GAMBLEAnd it was kind of, you know, like something out of a movie, where they were, you know, looking at this little kid who they thought, hmm, maybe she's got something. And, you know, it's those early auditions, especially, that I remember so vividly, because I was just so green and didn't know what I was doing. But, thankfully, there were good people along the way.
NNAMDIYou also sang in a church choir when you were a kid.
NNAMDICan you tell us what that was like, and how it may have helped develop your voice?
GAMBLEAbsolutely. So, early on, I used to sing in my church choir, just because I like to sing. And then, as we got a new choir director who decided he didn't want children in his choir, and I was kicked out of the choir. (laugh) And then, a couple of years later, once I had done a show in high school, my mom played the music director the audio of my singing. And then he very quickly, with chagrin and his tail between his legs, (laugh) asked me to come and join in.
GAMBLESo, I did, thankfully. And I learned so much. I mean, you know, it was a gospel choir, so it was, you know, learning how to sing gospel, as well as, you know, we also sang traditional. It was a Catholic choir, so we kind of sang all across the board. But it really -- you know, having that experience I think really, really, you know, got me to a great place, vocally.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, here is 16-year-old Valerie from Our Lady of Good Counsel. Valerie, your turn.
NNAMDIHi. I was wondering, in which ways have you used theater to give back to your community?
NNAMDIWe only have about 30 seconds left.
GAMBLEOkay. Yeah, well, you know, a lot of it is whether it's things like this like, you know, mentorships. Also, like, you know, like we did -- a couple years ago, they did a march for gun control in D.C. And we sang for that, as a part of that. A lot of that is also master classes to students, encouraging them that way. But, you know, there's lots of, I think, wonderful ways to kind of use the arts to give back to the community. And a lot of it is just encouraging kids along the way.
NNAMDIWell, a lot of us consider the arts, and you, to be gifts to our community, anyway.
GAMBLEOh, thank you.
NNAMDISo, Eleasha Gamble, thank you so much for joining us.
GAMBLEThank you. It's my pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIKojo for Kids with actor Eleasha Gamble was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about combating bigotry against Asian-Americans was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, students are now in their second pandemic school year affecting nearly everything in their lives, their studies, mental health and friendships. We're talking with high school seniors about their experiences. What lessons we can learn from the class of 2021. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
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