Cheryse McLeod Lewis ’01 MM has diversified.
The Greensboro native holds a master’s degree in vocal performance from the UNC Greensboro School of Music and has enjoyed a successful singing career, from the Seattle Opera to the 1st National Broadway Tour of The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess.” She has performed with fellow Spartan Rhiannon Giddens in Eleganza at colleges and universities across North Carolina, as well as with the Greensboro Symphony, Olympia Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Piccolo Spoleto Festival, and many other ensembles and festivals.
But Lewis does more than sing. She’s also a commercial and voiceover actress, a model and, since 2016, an entrepreneur with a passion for helping other singers.
Five years ago, she began her entertainment company, Premier Vocal Entertainment, for which she located talent, created ensembles, ran rehearsals, and matched singers up with many events in the greater Seattle area, including for Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft and Costco.
And each winter holiday season, she saw her Christmas caroling business double from the previous year, which meant more bookings for more singers and a prominent place in Seattle-area entertainment. As Lewis continued performing with the Seattle Opera and with symphonies, her own Supremes-style Motown vocal trio The Jewel Tones was really taking off.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, as Lewis says, “almost all professional singers lost all of their work in the span of a month.”
She wondered: How can I still find ways to provide a musical service and opportunities for my professional singer colleagues to keep working?
Lewis was familiar with the concept of singing telegrams, and she decided to come up with a way to package it with her entertainment company, to make it her own. With Serenade-A-Grams – socially-distant, outdoor deliveries of song – Lewis has been able to keep a roster of professional singers employed throughout the past year, and she has brought joy to residents of the Seattle area during a difficult time.
“The fun thing about delivering a Serenade-A-Gram is that the recipient is really surprised,” says Lewis. “They love it. They feel so special. They’re so thankful to the person that has sent it to them. And it’s really a special thing to be able to deliver to them. It fills the performer with such joy, not only because you’re bringing joy to the recipient, but also because we’re using our skills and our gifts and doing what is our career.”
The serenaders perform songs requested by the patrons, including those from hit musicals such as “Hamilton.”
In addition to the Serenade-A-Grams, Lewis has booked entertainment for virtual corporate events, for organizations like the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the University of Washington. She looks forward to the day when she and others can start giving live performances again, but it’s clear that Lewis will never stop performing, and never stop helping other performers find an audience, no matter the circumstances.
Lewis recalls how UNCG’s School of Music helped her develop the technical skills and performance experience to reach those high goals as a performer. She especially credits her independent voice work with Professor Carla LaFevre, and the opportunities to perform in UNCG Opera Theatre productions directed by David Holley.
“During those two years in UNCG’s master’s program, there was a lot of growth for me that laid the foundation for what came after that. The preparation I got there really set me up to move into a performance career. I look back on those two years, and I’m just really thankful.”
Her advice to other Spartans in the performing arts is to refine and develop their talents the best they can while they’re in school, and also to think of diversifying the way they can use their talents to make a living. She uses the hashtag “#diversifythatincome” to encourage other performers to think outside the box.
“The vast majority of professional singers are not going to form a complete career from stage productions. To me, singing at a Microsoft event is no less important than performing on the main stage of any opera company,” she says. “It’s still performing. It’s still professional engagement. It’s still sharing music with an audience. So, you have to really think about how you can round out your professional performance career.”
Lewis is scheduled to appear in the world premiere of opera “Omar” at the 2021 Spoleto Festival and in Greensboro Opera’s production of “Porgy and Bess” in 2022 at the new Tanger Center, alongside other Spartans like Rhiannon Giddens and Sidney Outlaw.
In the meantime, she has modeling, acting, and voiceover work for clients such as Costco, Amazon, and Zillow to fill her schedule, and she’s gearing up for the year – starting with Valentine’s Day – with her Serenade-A-Gram singers.