Anthony Kearns has performed all over the world, for U.S. presidents and the pope himself, and soon he will be bringing his distinctly Irish voice to the Kimball Theatre for an evening of intimate music.
Kearns garnered worldwide attention as the youngest member of the Irish Tenors, a singing trio formed in 1998 that has released eight albums and recorded five PBS specials. But Kearns' Kimball appearance is a smaller affair, with pianist David George serving as his only onstage partner.
"That gives us the opportunity to explore music that I love personally," Kearns said.
The duo will perform what he calls timeless, evergreen songs, including allusions to classic Hollywood films.
"It's some wonderful music that shouldn't be forgotten," he said. But "it's never too serious," and Kearns is keen on the idea of offering the audience two hours of escapism.
Growing up in Ireland, singing was a hobby he enjoyed from an early age. It quickly became his preferred method of expressing himself.
"It was nurtured along the way," he said. He would often sing alongside his family, bolstering his confidence.
"You have to believe in yourself," he said. "That's the first step."
Kearns also credits his Irish heritage for his determination.
"I'm blessed that I came from Ireland," he said through that unmistakable accent. "We've suffered a lot over the centuries. The Irish are a tough people."
The island's bouts with famine, back and forth migration and struggles for independence served as artistic inspiration for musicians, poets and others.
"I'm fortunate to have that canvas to work from," Kearns said.
Kearns' life changed in 1993 when he participated in a national radio talent show, "Ireland's Search for a Tenor" on the Gay Byrne Program. He was the only untrained voice in contention, and he won. In a twist of serendipity, he also met his vocal coach through the competition.
"It was meant to happen," he said, and much has changed since that fateful day.
"I have vocally matured," he said. "The performances have matured."
That talent has allowed him opportunities to perform for presidents including Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush. In 2013, he sang the National Anthem at a Redskins home game, and he's done the same for the New York Mets. He headlined the pre-mass concert for Pope Francis in Philadelphia in 2015. Last year, he performed at the Kennedy Center to commemorate a century since his homeland's Easter Rising rebellion against British Rule.
Kearns called such high profile acts "scary but great." But in the face of so much attention, his intent is always to perform for the people, not for himself.
"He is so beloved by these populist causes." said Kirsten Fedewa, Kearns' agent and publicist. "It's just the power of personality."
Kearns released his first solo CD, "With a Song in My Heart," in 2013; he hopes to release another soon.
Through all his travels, the singer remains a fan of the Williamsburg area.
"I love spending the day there just to putter about," he said. "They have something to show the world."
Kearns applauded the way in which the area's people are proud proud its history. It's also a nice change of pace from Florida, where he currently resides and "everything looks the same."
He is eager to return to the Kimball Theatre, where he performed two years ago.
"We've had great success in the past," Kearns said. "The Kimball Theatre is a lovely setting."
He wants to offer a nostalgic, old school performance in the midst of endless pop tunes on the radio.
"We're a dying breed," he said, planning a stripped down show. "That's where you see the real talent."
Fedewa hopes people will give his unique style a chance, in a world where tenors like Kearns might be lost in the shuffle of Drake and Ed Sheeran.
"I didn't think I'd like his brand of music until I heard him," Fedewa said. Kearns isn't too worried.
"If you keep yourself together, keep yourself grounded and work on yourself, the rest is a bonus," he said.
Kearns plans to meet with people from the audience after the show, for photos and conversation. However the show might turn out, he has a plan.
"You have to be content within," he said. "The world will take notice."
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-390-3029.
Want to go?
The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. on April 8 at the Kimball Theatre. Tickets are $35 for adults and $30 for students, military and seniors. They can be purchased by calling 1-800-HISTORY or online at http://bit.ly/2nSRqGT