Personality Profile

Tony Deaton memoirs ‘healing’

By AUTUMN HUGHES

Posted 2/5/18

For Tony Deaton, honing his vocal skills has been a lifelong process that led him from a dark childhood to the bright stage lights of The Kennedy Center, among others. Finding his inner voice and nurturing it as he wrote about the difficulties of his early life was an equally important and daunting process.

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Personality Profile

Tony Deaton memoirs ‘healing’

Tony Deaton
Tony Deaton
Posted

For Tony Deaton, honing his vocal skills has been a lifelong process that led him from a dark childhood to the bright stage lights of The Kennedy Center, among others. Finding his inner voice and nurturing it as he wrote about the difficulties of his early life was an equally important and daunting process.

Deaton is an associate professor of music at Lee University, where he teaches applied voice and vocal literature. He has lived in Cleveland for some 22 years, but first came to this area as a teenager to attend Lee College. It is the early period of his life that he wrote about in his memoir titled “Ain’t Had So Much Fun Since Uncle Quentin Died: Memories of Growing Up in Rural South Carolina.”

Deaton said he was 10 years old when his great-uncle Quentin died in Walhalla, S.C. In those days, the practice was for the deceased’s body to be prepared for viewing and returned home for visitation by family and friends ahead of interment. Deaton said his great-uncle had a son in the military and “it took about three or four days for his son to get back to South Carolina.” The funeral couldn’t be held until the son arrived, so visitation stretched out for days.

“Every night people were gathering at Uncle Quentin’s house and talking and laughing and joking,” Deaton said.

Deaton recalled that his grandfather had died two years earlier, and the two were close, so his grandfather’s death was a more mournful time. However, with Uncle Quentin, it wasn’t as much a time of grief in the eyes of a boy so young.

Deaton’s memoir covers his early childhood until about age 19 when he left home to attend Lee. He has “written some” of his future memoirs to cover his college days and early professional life, as well as a look to “my teaching and my grandfathering.”

“I really do want to do that,” Deaton said, adding writing “is like a second passion for me.”

Deaton said his brother-in-law, Knoxville News Sentinel columnist Sam Venable, encouraged his early interest in writing short stories.

“He’s read every bit of it” and helped with editing, Deaton said, adding they have the same kind of sense of humor and values about things.

Deaton added that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg, who has written about his family in Alabama, in an interview advised people to write down their stories, even if they are never published.

“Everyone should write their memoirs … nobody will know that part of your life if you don’t write it down,” he said.

Deaton said he thought he wanted to write short stories, but then he took a class on writing memoirs and said writing his was a cathartic experience.

“It was very hard and I loved it,” he said, adding it was “healing and enjoyable” to put the words on paper.

The book was published in July 2016 but he started writing “in earnest” a few years earlier. The first draft took a couple of years to complete and he shared his early writings with his brother and two sisters. The revision process took a bit of time partly because he wrote about “some dark issues” and wanted to be sure his siblings were OK with it.

“Nothing from my book is not true,” Deaton said.

He decided to share his memoir with the public and published it himself. The reaction from his family has been overwhelmingly positive, as has the reaction from non-related readers. Some readers have contacted him to say they like the humor or the description of the time period; others say they can identify their own experience with his memoir.

Most rewarding for Deaton is “it’s been a source of healing for some people,” he said.

His brother and one sister live close to the old homeplace and his other sister lives in Virginia. A few aunts and uncles also still live in the area and he has reconnected with some extended family and friends.

Deaton said one of his sisters writes in a journal on a regular basis and he and other siblings have told her she should publish her journals and share them. He noted their mother wrote poetry and he wishes his siblings would also pursue more writing.

Deaton relied on his siblings to help fill in some of the gaps for some parts of his memoir; they helped with clarification. He said every emotional and physical abuse as children “took a toll” on him and his siblings.

“It’s taken a lot of healing and a long time,” Deaton said, adding that is true not just for him but for his brother and sisters, too. “We’ve survived it and come out better on the other side.”

Deaton said he knew from an early age that music would be his future path.

“It’s given me purpose and meaning, a real reason to be here,” he said. “I feel very, very fortunate to have the life I’ve had and the life I have now.”

He performed professionally for about 20 years and said it was a joyful and fulfilling experience. He made his New York debut at The International Festival of the Arts in the title role of Punch in Harrison Birtwistle’s avant–garde opera, “Punch and Judy.” He has performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., at Spoleto USA in Charleston, S.C., and with symphony orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States.

Deaton has worked with such renowned artists as Gian Carlo Menotti, Carlisle Floyd, Robert Ward, Bodo Igesz and Marni Nixon, among others, and has performed many times on public and commercial radio and TV. Deaton created the role of Major William Lewis in the world premiere performance of “Rachel,” produced by the Knoxville Opera Company, and was chosen by American composer Richard Maltz to premiere his song cycle “Seeing With The Heart.” As a member of North Carolina’s distinguished Visiting Artist Program, Deaton presented hundreds of recitals, workshops and master classes.

In addition to teaching voice lessons, Deaton is preparing for a major work coming up in April: He is singing the bass solos in a production of Haydn’s “Creation.” The oratorio was written between 1797 and 1798 by Joseph Haydn and considered by many to be his masterpiece. The oratorio depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis.

“I am working on it now,” Deaton said, noting it is scheduled to be performed on April 21. “It’s such a powerful work musically and the story is about Creation.”

Deaton said the words in the production are from the Bible and John Milton’s poem, “Paradise Lost.”

Sometime after that performance, Deaton and his wife, Suzy, will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary with what he calls “the trip of a lifetime.”

“Life is mighty good,” Deaton said with a smile.

Visit Amazon.com to order a copy of Deaton’s book, “Ain’t Had So Much Fun Since Uncle Quentin Died: Memories of Growing Up in Rural South Carolina.”


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