Former Student Blends Success with Humility

“I think when he was born he was probably singing.” So says NAfME member Brenda Poss of Athens, Georgia, as she reflects on her relationship with Tituss Burgess, her former Cedar Shoals High School student. Tituss is known for his creation of the role of Sebastian the Crab, in the original Broadway production of The Little Mermaid. (Be sure to click this link to see Tituss in performance!)

Poss believes Burgess “came pre-programmed” to be receptive to all musical and theatrical opportunities. “Tituss learned by talking, observing, and doing; he saw and appreciated every opportunity as a learning opportunity.” Poss says Tituss was doing musicals in elementary and junior high school (The Wiz), and participated in as much community and school theater as he could during high school (even participating in the University of Georgia’s Center for Continuing Education’s Masters Hall Performances.

When asked about Tituss during the years she taught him, Poss said there are lots of stories she could tell, but the one thing she’d like to share with aspiring young performers is how focused and professional Tituss was.

“Tituss was just loaded with talent and personality; he was friendly and fun, but he worked hard and didn’t take it for granted; he stayed focused. He had a darn good time, but knew what he needed to do.” Burgess took classes that would make him a well-rounded musician and performer. He spent time with people he could learn from, people in the business, “poking and prodding to learn all he could.” Poss describes Burgess as “professional, focused, loving and humble. Just the nicest, nicest person.”

Poss reflected on her respect for Burgess as a professional. She said that teachers are like parents in terms of hoping to provide a model for students/kids to emulate. “We try to do a lot for the students, teach them professionalism, set an example, and sometimes it sticks, and sometimes it doesn’t – I think it’s good luck that they end up getting it.” Poss says.

In Tituss’ case, he continued to learn from each opportunity. He attended the University of Georgia for a music degree, studied privately, and did a lot of performing. After college, Burgess worked at Disney World as a performer. His first Broadway appearance, the musical Good Vibrations, was not well-received, but Burgess did get noticed and praised for his work.

Poss says it’s not magic to get ahead. “If you want to pursue a goal, it’s hard work. Kids are so capable, so excited, why should we be surprised if they’re successful? It takes talent, hard work, and determination with a good dose of luck” to make it.

Poss says: “Proud as I am of Tituss (and a number of my other students have gone on to do quite well), I get equal pleasure from average students who come up to me a decade later to thank me and tell me my class had meaning to them. That is the paycheck.”

“Tituss is just such a sweetheart, so appreciative of all he’s been given. And, he always picks up the phone when I call him!”

Tituss Info and Performances
WIKIPedia about Tituss
Playbill article about “30 Rock”

YOU TUBE VIDEOS: (variety of styles and genres)
Quiet (don’t miss this one!)
Church performance, Lean on Me 
Meadowlark (start at minute 1:23 )
River Deep, Mountain High 
Since You’ve been Gone 

Sue Rarus, September 22, 2011, © NAfME: National Association for Music Education