From front row, center to center stage: Coniece Washington returns to Prince George’s -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on Friday, March 15, 2013. An explanation of the correction follows the story.

Ten years ago, Coniece Washington went to see Ethel Ennis sing at the Montpelier Arts Center in Prince George’s County.

“I said, ‘I’m going to be there one day,’” remembered Washington. “I’m going to be on that stage.”

She was right.

On Friday, Washington will perform a selection of jazz standards in a concert at the Montpelier. The same day, Washington will release her debut album, “Love Changes.”

“I had recorded in the studio before but hadn’t put it together for a CD,” Washington said.

According to Washington, “Love Changes” features songs that speak to the different aspects of love, originally written by some of the singer’s major musical influences. Tracks off the album include, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” and Shirley Horn’s “Here’s to Life.”

“My goal is to present the American Songbook with integrity,” Washington said. “All of the jazz standards.”

Growing up in Trenton, N.J., Washington took what she called, the “traditional gospel route,” singing in her grandmother’s church choir. Washington said her mother’s taste in music is what eventually got her hooked on jazz.

“My mother was a big Carmen [McRae] fan,” Washington said. “So I grew up on the music I currently sing.”

After completing three years of college, Washington joined the Army. Soldiers in the military, both at home and abroad, were Washington’s first audience.

“We would have talent shows and I used that as a way to get started ...” Washington said.

Washington’s final station as a member of the Armed Forces was at Fort Meade. She liked the area and decided to settle here to raise her daughter, Shannon Washington, now 33.

“Back then I was singing at weddings, that sort of thing,” said Washington. “I was the classic wedding singer.”

But once Washington left the army in 1985, and as Shannon grew up, there was more time to focus on a music career.

“After I left the military, I didn’t have to be worried about getting up at 2:30 a.m. and not returning for a week,” said Washington. “I was busy being a mom and a soldier. Now that I’m no longer a soldier and that my daughter is an adult on her own, I have the time.”

But Washington is still very much connected to the military. She is a full-time clinician at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Every year, she hosts a benefit concert at The Carlyle Club in Alexandria, Va., and donates a portion of the proceeds to AmVets.

“As a vet, that’s my way of helping other vets,” Washington said.

After retiring from active duty, Washington knew she had the time and the passion to pursue her dreams of becoming a performer, but she also knew she needed the professional training.

Washington became a member of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Men and Women of the Gospel Choir. And while Washington said she did receive voice training from the group, it wasn’t enough to fulfill her.

“Singing in the background is not what I wanted to do,” said Washington. “I wanted to be the person in the front delivering the songs. I really like performing. I enjoy it and I try to show it.”

“I don’t think I really started to grow until I started to work with Vince Evans,” she added.

Evans, a musician and teacher in Lanham, has recorded with artists like Prince, Phyllis Hyman and Bill Withers. After attending one of his workshops, Washington hired Evans as her voice coach three years ago. She recorded “Love Changes” at his studio in Lanham.

In two years, Washington said she hopes to retire and pursue her singing career full time. Until then, Washington said she will “perform every chance [she] gets.”

“I was always a singer at heart, singing in the shower,” said Washington. “But now, after a couple years of vocal training and performing, I can say I’m truly a vocalist and I want to continue to grow...”

Correction: The Carlyle Club in Alexandria, Va., was originally misidentified.