Nathanael Barlow Heads to Finals at The Apollo! (Q&A)

Over the last several months, Nathanael Barlow, vocal student of Sharon Neff and piano student of David Shunskis here at Settlement Music School, has performed three rounds at Amateur Night at the Apollo and worked his way to the finals! Singing renowned hits like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Donny Hathaway’s “For All We Know,” Barlow captivated his audiences bringing an absolutely electric energy to a venue that has played a massive role in defining popular music over the last 100+ years.

We talked with Nathanael about this incredible experience and the journey that brought him to the Apollo. Read the story below, and make sure to cheer Nathanael on this Wednesday (November 22) when he performs at the final round of Amateur Night at the Apollo!

Q&A With Nathanael Barlow, Voice Student of Settlement faculty member Sharon Neff


How does it feel to sing on stage at an amazing venue like the Apollo?

Performing on the world-famous Apollo Theatre stage is the experience of a lifetime. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to share my gifts with people in a space that is incredibly rich in history, passion, and love. Just to think that I have gotten to perform multiple times on the same stage as internationally acclaimed legends such as The Jackson 5, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, Dionne Warwick, Marvin Gaye, and so many other stars, past and present, is magical!


What pieces have you performed and why did you choose those songs?

Thus far, I’ve performed two songs in my three rounds at the Apollo. For my second round, I performed Al Green’s, “Let’s Stay Together,” hoping to remind the audience at The Apollo of the importance of sticking together and supporting one another. Donny Hathaway’s, “For All We Know,” is the song that I performed for my first and third rounds at The Apollo Theatre. In fact, that was the first and only time I had ever sung that song, and the night that I performed it was the same day that the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Ms. Tina Turner, passed away. That was meaningful to me because the very first time that I heard “For All We Know” was years before I ever performed it, but I’d always said that I would wait for the perfect moment to sing it. My first night on the world-famous stage of The Apollo Theatre was definitely the perfect moment.


Tell us about your singing experience!

I began singing and composing music in preschool at the age of 4. I have always enjoyed singing, but I was afraid. With the help of my mom, I conquered my first performance at church where I sang Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

I began taking voice lessons about two years ago at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts under the direction of Mr. Lovett Hines. During a performance with the Clef Club, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Renee McBride, the mother of the famous bassist and composer, Mr. Christian McBride, a Settlement Music School and Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts alumnus. Ms. Renee recommended that I study at Settlement Music School, too. That was about one year ago, and I have taken voice and piano lessons at Settlement Music School since. As a multi-genre artist, I’ve focused on many genres and styles with Ms. Neff. These include jazz, musical theater, blues, contemporary, classical, opera, and many more.


What have you learned in your voice lessons with Ms. Neff that has helped you on stage?

Ms. Neff and I have primarily worked on breath support and control, diction, placement, vocal health, and many other skills. These foundational skills have helped me with stamina and consistency when I perform. Additionally, having these skills has enhanced my presentation and helped me to be more confident when I am on stage.

When things come naturally to me, I can have difficulty explaining how I’ve achieved my result. During our lessons, Ms. Neff pushed me to explain my mental and physical processes so that musically, I have a clearer understanding of what steps I’ve taken to accomplish certain results, and so that I understand exactly what I need to work on more to achieve my desired outcomes.

“It’s okay, take your time.” Ms. Neff, and many of my teachers, have said this to me. I believe this is one of the best pieces of advice anyone can receive.


What do you hope to do with music in the future?

I am a renaissance man at heart, and I want to do so many things. A few of my aspirations include being involved in vocal performance, music production, screen scoring, entertainment law, music business, and theater.

This summer, I had the pleasure of participating in B4: Black, Brown, and Bound for Berklee at Berklee College of Music where I explored many of my interests. I am also interested in other schools with wonderful music programs; primarily, Howard University, The Columbia-Juilliard Program, The Harvard-Berklee Joint Studies program, and The Curtis Institute.

I am watching my future unfold.

I am excited and I am eternally grateful.


Is there anything you can tell us about your next performance? 

I am working very hard to prepare for my performance. I always do. Practicing is very important to me.  I am looking for the perfect suit, and I am extremely excited to bring home the WIN for Philadelphia!


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