Donald Braswell II
|Donald Braswell II|
|Born||February 22, 1963|
|Origin||San Antonio, Texas, United States|
|Genres||Opera, operatic pop, classical, musical theater|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, composer, actor|
Hartman Music Group (2007)Braswell/Bazzani Music Group (2010-present)
|Associated acts||The San Antonio Three Tenors, Real Divos, Margaret Keys, Tim Janis, America's Got Talent|
Donald Braswell II (born February 22, 1963) is an American actor, classical crossover tenor and composer. Braswell was on a fast track to become an internationally acclaimed opera singer when he suffered a car accident in 1995 that made him unable to speak for almost two years. After that, he had lived a quiet life outside of the spotlight until his appearance on the 2008 season of America's Got Talent where he was a Top 5 finalist, which gave him another chance at a career in entertainment. Since then, he has entertained audiences both internationally as well as shore to shore in the United States in concerts, television appearances, inspirational speaking and radio. He has a fan club with fans from over 25 countries.
Braswell has reentered the world of symphonic music by singing in pops concerts starting with the Symphony of the Hills in Kerrville, Texas in June 2009. He performs a variety of musical genres ranging from pure classical repertoire to soul to mainstream pop. He engages people of many cultures by singing in various languages outside of English, including Spanish, Italian, Neapolitan, French and Russian. His concerts are generally multilingual, and he has performed pieces that are themselves in more than one language. Some of these include: Mario Frangoulis's bilingual version of "Nights in White Satin" (Italian title "Notte di luce"), originally by The Moody Blues; and Andrea Bocelli's "The Prayer" and "Vivere" (English title "Dare to Live"). His other non-English repertoire includes Agustín Lara's "Rosa" (Spanish), Mario Frangoulis's "Vincerò, perderò" (Italian) and the Neapolitan standard "O sole mio". Some of his many compositions can be heard on his album We Fall and We Rise Again. In June 2012, he relaunched his career to musical theater with playing the lead role in the musical The Centurion.
Early life and education
Donald Braswell II, a native of Texas, is the youngest of four children of Donald and Jane Braswell (née Jane House). He grew up near Boerne, Texas, a town just north of San Antonio. His parents were Broadway performers, and he has displayed an interest in theater and music since childhood and aspired to become an actor. As a child, he often performed with his family, and described the theatrical arts as something that felt natural to him. While in high school, he would participate in local theater groups at night without telling anyone; he preferred not to display his "aesthetic side."
Upon graduation from Boerne High School and a summer working at Six Flags, Braswell attended Tyler Junior College from 1981 to 1982 and the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1982 to 1983. His love of acting drove him to New York City during 1983 and 1984 to study at Lee Strasberg and the HB Studios and take private voice lessons from Marni Nixon, who provided the singing voice for people such as Deborah Kerr in the The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story.
Even the pull of Broadway in New York City couldn't compete with the real passion in Braswell's life, Julie Clayburne. He moved back to Boerne to be with her, where he worked at the allegedly haunted Ye Kendall Inn from 1984 to 1986 as a singing waiter and boasted making the best table-side Steak Diane. Having met at age 11 and been in love since 15, Clayburne and Braswell were married on May 25, 1985. She persuaded him to apply to the Juilliard School in New York City. He did it only to humor her; however, he was not only accepted but also awarded the prestigious Enrico Caruso scholarship.His audition was in the spring of 1986, and he enrolled in the fall that year. There he began his professional training as an operatic tenor under the tutelage of Enrico Di Giuseppe. He graduated four years later in 1990.
After graduating Juilliard, he studied under Franco Bertacci, who is now Artistic Director of the Lyric Orchestra in Florida. Of Bertacci, Braswell says he was "the teacher that I give most credit to for the development of my voice." Donald was selected as one of the winners of the Liederkranz Foundation Vocal Competition and he performed at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center.
He also received a grant from the Puccini Foundation (now The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation) where he was a sponsored artist of Licia Albanese and the Primo Tenore Franco Corelli enabling Donald to perform at the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. He studied with "Prince of Tenors", Corelli, in NYC. He recalls that Corelli showed his students how music creates itself from within a singer.
First Columbia Artist Management and then Herber Barrett Management managed his professional engagements. During his career as a professional operatic tenor, he played many leading roles around the world, including roles such as Arturo in La Straniera by Bellini, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi by Puccini, Luigi in Il tabarro by Puccini, Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly by Puccini, Turiddu from Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni, Cavaradossi in Tosca by Puccini, Romeo in Roméo et Juliette by Gounod, Rodolfo in La Bohème by Puccini, Il Duca in Rigoletto by Verdi, Edgardo in Lucia Di Lammermoor by Donizetti, Lancelot in Le Roi Arthus by Chauson, Fritz in L'amico Fritz by Mascagni, Faust in Faust by Gounod, Don José in Carmen by Bizet, Alfredo in La traviata by Verdi, Tamino in The Magic Flute by Mozart, Andrea Chénier in Andrea Chénier by Giordano and Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore by Donizetti.
These performances took him to leading operatic theatres around the world. He was regarded as a very successful artist, earning praise from the Annuario dell'opera lirica in Italia, an annual Italian opera journal.
Donald was also a regular featured guest artist of Stephan Zucker's late night radio program in New York.
Car accident and aftermath
Braswell's operatic career ended abruptly in the fall of 1995. While performing with the Welsh National Opera in their tour of Madama Butterfly in Wales, Braswell was struck by a car while riding a bicycle, which resulted in injuries to the soft tissue in his throat. He was told by medical professionals that he would never sing again and possibly would have difficulty ever speaking normally. He was unable to speak for a long period of time.
When he was once again able to make sounds, Braswell began using the Bertacci vocal techniques and other training that he had learned, working to regain the use of his speaking voice and eventually his singing voice as well. As his voice strengthened, his church encouraged him to sing there, and later he began testing his returning vocals with local community productions.
Braswell defied predictions and began to sing again in the year 2000 with a debut with the San Antonio Symphony. He earned the lead role of Lancelot in the cast of Camelot in the Majestic Theatre for the symphony's Pop Series. The next year he had the lead in Kismet with the symphony again. He performed with the San Antonio Three Tenors in small shows in shopping malls  and elsewhere when they needed a replacement singer. It was at one of these that a fan persuaded Braswell to make a CD, which was subsequently released in 2007 with the title New Chapter. Braswell has also appeared in The Life of David Gale, Resurrection, As the World Turns, One Life to Live and Miss Congeniality. In Miss Congeniality, he played the dermatologist of Gracie Hart; however, the scene was cut from the final production to trim the length of the movie.
All of these performances were extracurricular activities for Braswell while he held down full-time jobs in insurance sales, car sales, and swimming-pool design to support his growing family. His first daughter was born two years after the accident, and two more daughters came in the years during his recovery.
America's Got Talent
In 2007, unbeknown to him, Braswell's wife submitted an audition tape to NBC's America's Got Talent. In September of that year, Braswell received a call from the show's producers for a live audition. Having endured years of believing he would never sing again, he suddenly had the possibility of giving his three daughters a glimpse of their father performing once more on a professional stage with all the lights and cameras he had experienced in his early career. During the preliminaries, he performed "You Raise Me Up" by Rolf Løvland and Brendan Graham. Initially, the audience was hostile, collectively shouting to get him off the stage. During the second refrain of the song, however, Braswell was able to turn the audience's reaction around and when he finished, the audience gave him a standing ovation, even chanting "Vegas!" in unison, expressing their support for his advancement to the next round in Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, he sang "Lost" by Michael Bublé and he was eliminated by the judges, keeping him from joining the Top 40. The day before this first audition aired, Braswell appeared on the Today Show where he gave an interview about his past and how he came to audition for America's Got Talent. At that point he had already been cast out of the show, which the audience didn't know, making it a surreal interview. However, when the Russian Bar Trio suffered an injury and had to withdraw from the competition, the judges chose eight of the eliminated acts for a chance to become the wildcard act. Viewers then voted for their favorite act, thus bringing Braswell back into the competition.
Upon returning to the competition, he continued to advance every week until he won a spot in the Top 5. There, he once again performed his original audition piece, "You Raise Me Up." One week later, he won fourth place. Before the final places were announced, pre-recorded videos were shown of various celebrities' support for their favorite acts. In these videos, Andrew Lloyd Webber congratulated Braswell on his performance of Lloyd Webber's composition "The Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera and stated that he would love to work with Braswell some day. On October 17, 2008, Braswell joined the Top 10 finalists from America's Got Talent to perform at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. There, he did another rendition of "You Raise Me Up" and stepped out of his previous genres into the vocally challenging standard, "Unchained Melody", which he dedicated and sang to his wife who was in the audience.
|Week||Theme||Song choice||Original artist||Performance order||Result|
|Audition||N/A||"You Raise Me Up"||Brian Kennedy||N/A||Advanced|
|Vegas Verdicts||Opera singers||"Lost"||Michael Bublé||2||Eliminated|
|Top 40||Wild Card||N/A||N/A||N/A||Advanced|
|N/A||"The Impossible Dream"||Man of La Mancha||6||Advanced|
|N/A||"The Music of the Night"||The Phantom of the Opera||2||Advanced|
|Top 10||Heroes||"To Where You Are"||Josh Groban||N/A||Advanced|
|Top 5||Finale||"You Raise Me Up"||Brian Kennedy||N/A||4th Place|
Now hitting his stride, Donald has become a well-rounded entertainer performing in concerts, television and radio throughout North America. His performances are sprinkled with comedy and dance moves to the delight of audiences. His first album, New Chapter, went international when it was embraced by executives at Canoe FM radio based in Haliburton, Canada, where it has been broadcasting since February 2009. He dusted off compositions he began while mute after the accident and combined them with new compositions in an original album, We Fall and We Rise Again, with partner/composer Anthony Bazzani, including a tribute to composer Ennio Morricone with their composition, "Ennio". He also honors his opera days with his rendition of "Nessun dorma", as well as songs dedicated to his wife. In October 2011, he released his third album, Unchained, again with partnership of Anthony Bazzani.
Braswell has stated that he hopes to use his talent to help others. His desire is to use his story to inspire people, as when he appeared on the inspirational radio show "Achieving the Extraordinary" with Ron Graves. He has performed at many charity events and has even put on concerts with the sole purpose of raising funds for those in need. In 2009, for example, he and his family participated in four concerts with San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries (SAMMinistries), proceeds of which went to benefit the homeless of San Antonio. At the first of these concerts in January, he introduced his original composition "Look at Me", written during the time that he could not speak. He would eventually dedicate the song to people with other struggles, with hopes that the words can help them as well. See his events calendar for more information on his other recent appearances. In 2012, Braswell was cast as the lead role (Cornelius the Centurion) for the original musical theater project, The Centurion: The Musical. As of 2012, he is working on his fourth album, which will include Crossover Christian songs.