There are many reasons I like Audra McDonald. She’s an award-winning performer, has an angelic voice and, despite her star status, has always been willing to do an interview. It’s what she does during those interviews that may be one of the most impressive things about McDonald.
The majority of the time, when I talk to a celebrity, they don’t mention their hometown. Sometimes, where a person grew up, can say a lot about the kind of person they become.
What I’ve noticed with McDonald is that even when she talking to press that isn’t from Fresno, she has no problem mentioning her roots. Her willingness to talk about Fresno is really important for the city because it shows the kind of talent that has come out of this area.
An example of McDonald’s hometown pride came out while talking to a room full of TV critics about her hosting duties on the PBS series “Live from Lincoln Center.” She’ll perform on the episode of the concert series airing at 9 p.m. May 24.
As soon as she starts discussing her background, the city name gets mentioned.
“I came from a really musical family, and I studied piano classically just because my grandmothers were piano teachers. But then, I started doing musical theater at age 9 in Fresno, California,” McDonald says. “I went to a performing arts high school, and that was sort of my life there, music theater, music theater.
“But then I auditioned for Juilliard because I wanted to live in New York and I wanted be on Broadway. But Juilliard seemed, at the time, the right way to get there. And so then all of a sudden that opened me up to the world of Lincoln Center and classical music.”
There may have been another reason McDonald left Fresno to go to Juilliard. She recalls while living here how she would watch “Live from Lincoln Center” when it was hosted by opera singer Beverly Sills.
“I didn’t really love opera, but with Beverly Sills, I felt connected to it because I felt connected to her. And she was such a consummate performer and such an accessible performer, and she was a truly American opera star. Even though we don’t look anything alike or sing anything alike, I felt a deep connection to her,” McDonald says.
And, then she brings the story back to Fresno as McDonald adds that her mother would sing along to a cassette tape of Beverly Sills every morning as she took her to school.