As the old saying goes: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The Burnette family exemplifies just that, as patriarch O’Bryan Burnette, who boasts a lengthy career in the music biz, will perform with two of his six children this weekend at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. His daughter, LaRaisha, routinely takes over the stage at venues across Wilmington with her powerhouse vocals. Now she is part of local outfit LaCi and the Pool Boys. As well, Brandyn Burnette (son and brother respectively) has a burgeoning solo career.
Born in Sneads Ferry, NC, O’Bryan first toyed with music when he began tickling the ivories at 6 years old. The piano came naturally to O’Bryan, and it laid the groundwork for him to later dabble in synthesizers, organ, clarinet, and keyboard instruments. His father’s vast record collection also inspired him. Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Chi-Lites, and Stylistics were mainstays that fueled his passion.
“When you’re exposed to musical instruments as a child, the effect it has on you never really goes away,” O’Bryan says.
His family uprooted to Santa Ana, California, in 1974. There, O’Bryan began singing in the choir at Second Baptist Church. In 1981 a friend of his, Melanee Kersey, encouraged him to explore a career in music. She introduced him to her husband, producer Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey (former The Trammps keyboardist). Kersey recruited O’Bryan for a band the he was forming (Hamercy), but it soon disassembled; however, the contact proved invaluable, as Kersey introduced him to the creator of the TV show “Soul Train,” Don Cornelius.
“[It was] very exciting, to say the least,” O’Bryan comments, “because Ron was the first professional in the music business to recognize my talent and want to work with me. The whole process of meeting him and having him introduce me to Don Cornelius as a possible artist was just unbelievable.”
Once Cornelius took note of O’Bryan’s potential, his career soared. Cornelius presented O’Bryan to Capitol Records, throughout the ‘80s, he subsequently released four R&B Billboard-charting records—”Doin’ Alright,” “You and I,” “Be My Lover,” “Surrender.”
O’Bryan’s success in the music industry set the stage for his children’s pursuits. Throughout the ‘90s he lived in Los Angeles. Though he still recorded music, he took a breather to raise his family (until the release of his 2007 album “F1RST”). Every Sunday after church, he would take the family to Guitar Center to strum guitars and try their hands at the synths, and his arena concerts turned into intimate jam sessions with his family as the audience.
“We’ve always listened to my dad sing and play,” LaRaisha reports. “He encouraged our individual efforts to pursue performing.”
The gravity of growing up with a legend as a father hit LaRaisha when the family lived in St. Louis during the early aughts. LaRaisha noticed Isaac Hayes would be performing, so she immediately contacted her father, who shared her respect for the musician. At the concert, she approached Hayes for an autograph.
“When he agreed, he asked: ‘What’s your dad’s name?’” she details. “I said: ‘O’Bryan.’ And Mr. Hayes said ‘Soul Train O’Bryan?’ He knew who my dad was and that moment for me was a wow factor. [It’s amazing] when your idol knows who you are. My dad is legend in the R&B community. It just blew my mind.”
O’Bryan rallied behind LaRaisha and Brandyn when they decided to concentrate on their zest for musical theatre at NYU. “He believes that the gifts you have should be pursued to the fullest,” LaRaisha says.
LaRaisha moved to Wilmington two years ago to be with her family, who returned to NC in 2008. She fell in love with the local theatre scene, and has starred in several City Stage productions, including “Brooklyn,” “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” She’s starred in seven Wilmington productions altogether. It was at City Stage that she met LaCi and the Pool Boys keys player Chiaki Ito, City Stage’s musical director.
“We connected instantly on our first production together [‘Brooklyn’], and talked about music and a band for a while after ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,’” LaRaisha says. “We just knew we had to keep working together. I feel so honored and lucky to be in the presence and have the guidance of such a stellar musician. She’s also one of my closest friends, so we have a blast during rehearsals.”
Rob Murphrey on drums, Justin Hoke on guitar, and Sean Howard on bass fill out the band, which performs covers of jazz, rock, blues, pop, and reggae. Their re-imaginings of songs range from The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” to Prince’s “Purple Rain”—all songs tailored to LaRaisha’s powerful vocals. LaRaisha and Ito channel their theatrical training into each performance, adding layers of soul and panache.
Completing the family’s trifecta of musicianship is Brandyn, who taught himself to play piano at 7 years old. He currently lives between New York and LA (primarily in LA), as he strives to get radio play for his catchy, pop-laden single, “Thanks For Nothing,” which was released by Warner Brothers Records in June. The single paves the road for his debut EP, “The Couch Surfing Chronicles,” which will hit stores this fall.
As well, the prolific songwriter already scored a co-writing credit for Nashville trio Hot Chelle Rae’s single, “Don’t Say Goodnight.” He recently premiered his mixtape, “Punchlines from a Scattered Mind,” too.
“[It] was inspired because I had just finished writing the EP, and I felt like I still had more to say,” Brandyn states. “The title came about when I was compiling the songs for the mixtape; I realized they were written over the course of a few years. I didn’t know as a collection, how to title them. So I stayed true to what the overall sentiment was with some songs written on couches in NYC and others written in garages in LA.”
The mixtape highlights the uncertainty that comes with pursing one’s dreams and living in a new city. He describes it as representing his coming-of-age story. Now Brandyn looks toward his first tour, which is set to launch at the end of the year or beginning of 2015.
The Burnette siblings will command the stage as they open for their father at An Evening of Pop, Rock and Soul concert, presented by HEADSTORM Entertainment on Saturday, August 30th. It will stands as a homecoming as the family reunites. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the music,” LaRaisha muses. “Music and family come first, the rest is fluff.”
An Evening of Pop, Rock & Soul
Featuring O’Bryan, LaRaisha and Brandyn Burnette
Saturday, August 30th, 4 p.m.
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.