By Danny R. Johnson
WASHINGTON–Naturally 7 is not your typical a cappella group. In fact, the group is much more than that and then some! The 1,500 people in the audience who watched Naturally 7 perform live in a recent concert at the Music Center at Strathmore, which is located outside of the Washington, DC, were witnesses to nothing but pure singing with no lip-synching.
With their rich harmonies and astonishing vocal versatility, members of the Naturally 7 group amazed and charmed the audience with their unique and exceptional talent. From quiet success in Europe, they have been propelled onto the world stage, performing before millions to rave reviews for what The Boston Globe called in a November 2010 review “A jaw-dropping vocal symposium.”
“To call them an a cappella group would be a gross understatement, for they performed songs with trumpets, electric guitars, bass cello, harmonica, a full drum kit, and more – using only their voices. It was like a striking optical illusion, only aural…rarely does an opener melt the crowd like Naturally 7 did. By the time the half-hour set ended, all too soon, many jumped to their feet to give the stellar musicians a standing ovation” (The Boston Globe).
The group’s performance was even more electrifying than the Boston concert because they methodically interacted with the audience during the 2 ½ hours concert. What is the difference between “vocal play” and a cappella? A cappella is singing without instruments. “Vocal Play” is singing as instruments. Every instrumental sound is a creation of the human voice – there are no actual drums, guitars, horns, flutes or any other instruments, just voices. Naturally 7 does it all.
Naturally 7’s early beginnings
The group was founded in 1999 in New York City by Roger Thomas and his brother, Warren, and five other singers. After years of performing in traditional male groups, Roger Thomas discovered that he had an affinity for a cappella singing, as well as a talent for creating distinctive harmony arrangements. Invited to sing in an a cappella competition in New York, Naturally 7 won, moved on to compete on a national level, and took away two more wins. Unwilling to define Naturally 7 as purely a cappella group or a traditional band, Roger had a novel idea: The group would be both.
He recalled that his brother, Warren, as a child, had wanted a drum set, but their mother had said no because it was too noisy. Therefore, Warren learned to make drum sounds with his voice – finding different ways to make the kick, toms, snares, cymbals, and other drum sounds. Roger approached Warren and asked if he would be the band’s “drummer,” and accompany Naturally 7’s up-tempo songs. Other band members explored their voices to determine which instruments they would be.
Today, the members of Naturally 7 are Roger Thomas (musical director, arranger, first baritone and rap), Warren Thomas (percussion, guitar, clarinet, third tenor), Rod Eldridge (first tenor, scratching, trumpet), Napoleon (Polo) Cummings (fourth tenor and guitar), Dwight Stewart (second baritone, vocals and trumpet), Garfield Buckley (second tenor, harmonica), and “Hops” Hutton (bass). As the opening act for singer Michael Buble, they have been met with standing ovations nightly in South Africa, Canada, Europe, Australia and the U.S.
The groups is experiencing phenomenal success
The last few years have seen a whirlwind of success for Naturally 7. In May 2008, they made their television debut on the Ellen show, and joined Michael Buble for a guest appearance on The Today Show. They opened for Jay Leno in Las Vegas and performed at his Tonight Show; they were guest on Tavis Smiley, performed at NARM (the Music Association Conference), helped celebrate Quincy Jones’ 75th Birthday in Monteux and greeted a hometown crowd at Madison Square Garden. Following that, they travelled to London to play the Royal Variety television show, capping the evening by meeting Britain’s Prince Charles. On February 22, 2011, the group stunned a live televised audience with their unique talents at the BET Honors salute to Herbie Hancock.
Halfway into 2011, Naturally 7 is capitalizing on the success of their world tours, television appearances and numerous CD recordings, including Non Fiction (2000), the aptly titled What Is It (2003); Christmas…It’s A Love Story (2004) and Ready II Fly (2006). Several pieces from the various recordings have reached the Top 3 charts in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa.