Minnesota Local singer Ray Covington readies himself for a performance of several hours at a Minneapolis event. Covington has been singing since four (his first song was a cover of Let’s Stay Together by Al Green, one of the all-time R&B greats). Tonight, Covington will serenade fans with covers, ranging from Earth Wind and Fire to the late Luther Vandross.
Covington’s task is daunting, especially when the time comes for his rendition of Vandross’s song House Is Not a Home. Vandross transcended love ballets and adored by millions. When a singer accepts the challenge of covering any of Vandross’s music, they had better plan on tireless practice and determination. They would also be wise to take an honest look at themselves, assessing whether they can pull ever off such a task. Fans will not hold back on critiques and rejections if the singer isn’t up to the task.
“I like to get locked, but loose as possible,” Covington told me. “I love to watch my favorite performers in concerts as I lead up to the show like Michael and Janet Jackson, [and] Usher,” he said. “I watch the energy and visualize myself getting that same reaction.”
The music industry made up of many ingredients—one of the most elusive elements in searching for what’s next.
Michael Jackson and his family’s performing ensemble The Jackson 5 entered and then transcended the music world in the early ’70s and ’80s. Their popularity created a fad for a new kind of music, and it opened the door for a new group, whoever could take their place. The search began and stopped at an R&B group called New Edition, the next Jackson 5. Years later, the search resumed. Was there a group that could reach the same heights of talent and musical inventiveness as New Edition? That’s when New Kids on The Block emerged. Music is always constantly changing, always looking for the next big thing. And male ensembles, harmonizing while singing and dancing, are perennial successes.
Covington In Concert
Covington is well educated and knows how the music world operates. He knows that when music executives are always searching for the next act, this can have disastrous long-term effects on singers’ careers, ranging from jobs that stop short to those that never have a chance to get started.
“I think business, in general, can be cutthroat,” he said. “The music business is no different. The common thread to everything is that you are dealing with people. They come in all shapes, sizes, attitudes, and intentions, good and bad. I remember my’ whys.’ I make music for the people I love with the intention of adding to the quality of their lives.”
It’s precisely the “why” that has motivated Covington to thrive as a singer, regardless of the business’s parts, that can be undeniably less than glamorous.
Covington Worked Hard
Covington has worked hard to carve out an identity for himself in the local scene. Anyone who has been to local nightclubs or attended events and keeps abreast of local music will have seen him. And he is working hard to create a name for himself beyond his home state. Take a scroll through YouTube, and you will find high-quality music videos, including a challenge called RCM (Ray Covington Music). But most significant is Covington’s willingness to fund most of his work, which might seem risky, given that there are no guarantees of fortune. Not to mention that he has to continue to pour money into his projects, even knowing the risks.
“Nothing worth having comes easy. I believe what has continued to drive me has been the journey. Success is not the destination; it’s the path to it. I have always been able to adapt to the change in music. The day that I can’t do that will be the day that I move to the next adventure.”
There are several paths that an aspiring musical artist can take, ranging from recording artist to singer-songwriter, to band member, to soloist. And while Covington has diversified and taken on all of these roles, most important is his willingness to tackle a songwriter’s area. “Ray is talented,” said Kendra Glen Jonson, who performs in a local wedding band with Covington from time to time. “He writes his original music.”
On the surface, this might not mean much. But the implications are significant in the music business. Many musicians rely on songwriters; when the writers decide that the artists are no longer valuable to them, they often left on their own. The resulting products are often mediocre because singers never learned or put in the effort to teach them to write and produce their music.
It’s not uncommon for musicians who achieve mega-stardom to receive tremendous advances from well-known family members. Gerald Levert had his famous father, Eddie Levert, a member of the popular group The O’Jays. In contrast, BeBe & CeCe Winans had the advantage of being born into the famous musical family The Winans. And superstar singer Julio Iglesias, Jr., followed the Success of his father, Enrique Iglesias.
For Covington and his three brothers and three sisters, the situation was different. Covington’s brothers and oldest sister developed a band in the late ’70s. Although they were on the verge of hitting national Success, they fell short. But their influence inspired Covington. “That’s why I say I’ve always known what I wanted to do: [ sing]. I had a great example,” he said.
While Covington didn’t have the advantage of coming from a musical family who had achieved mainstream Success, his upbringing was stable enough to learn transparency, depth, and honest self-reflection, all of which play a crucial role in music. Still, his role as a father and husband has been significant as well.
Grow Up With-Quality Of Life
“I can say that I was blessed to have both parents and grow up with a quality of life that I will never take for granted or ever underappreciate,” he said. “Losing family, particularly my parents and recently my sister, taught me about myself and music’s place in my life. It gives me strength; it gives me counsel. It allowed me the opportunity to communicate to them how much I love each one of them through song,” he went on. “I learned that I have the power of music to help other people thought pain just like me.”
He added, “The songs reflect happening in my life at the time, or what has been in the forefront of the mind. Usually, those songs write themselves. Some of my favorite songs of mine only took 15 minutes to write.”
Any singer can grow tired of dealing with audience members’ personalities. Countless megastars have engaged in verbal arguments with fans during their shows because the singer fed up. And Covington deals with fans on all psychological levels and with all kinds of life experiences. The venue can make it worse. The more intimate it is, the higher the stress level. “Anxious, nervous, anticipation energy,” said Covington describing, the feeling when he walks on the stage. “I watch the audience as much as they watch me. I let them lead me,” he said. “If they laid back, I pay back with them. If they charged, I get charged up with them.”
Some nightspots have special meaning for singers, and Covington is no different. “My heart will always be with Arnellia’s nightclub,” he said, referring to a nightclub on University Ave in Saint Paul. “I truly made my name there, and a nephew by Ms. Arnellia always treated me,” Covington spoke fondly about the nightclub that no longer exists. “I met my wife there, performed for my mom for the last time there. I laughed and cried there.”
Starring Ray Covington
But on this night, his tribute to Vandross’s is at a nightclub called Bunkers in south Minneapolis. Covington lets the music intro to A House Is Not A Home simmer, a steady wave rising as his voice moved with the unhurried expression. When the song is over, he nailed it to the fans’ delight as they gave him a standing ovation.
“I’ve shared the stage or met lots of them [major musical artists],” he said. “What is fascinating about believing in yourself and feeling confident about who you are and what you do is, you are always excited and respectful. But you know what you can do, and many times that energy makes you gravitate to being treated more like a peer; it is an incredible feeling and makes you grow.”