T.C.Carson’s voice is, without a doubt, his personal calling card–wonderfully deep and radio-ready. It is an instrument that commands attention. We loved seeing Carson in the role of Kyle Barker, as he used his golden gift to verbally duel with Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander) every week on the hit 90s sitcom Living Single, about the lives of several Black single male and female friends sharing a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York.
Over the years, Carson has remained creatively busy appearing in such films as U-571 co-starring Matthew McConaughey and Final Destination 2 co-starring Ali Larter. Most recently, you might have also been wowed by Carson’s roles on the popular OWN network series Greenleaf, and the CW’s Black Lightning. Last year, he portrayed the part of a psychologist who tries to help a student come to grips with the challenges of his bipolar disorder in the BETHer thriller Bricked. Maybe you caught his performance in TV One’s holiday movie Coins for Love co-starring Essence Atkins.
The NAACP Image Award nominee has also had success doing voiceover roles on popular video game series for manufacturers like PlayStation. He was the voice of Kratos in the God of War video game series, one of the top-selling video games of all-time, as well as Mace Windu in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated television series, and as the Shaman Tensi in Far Cry Primal.
How we all still pine for a reboot of Living Single the show that so precisely framed our coming-of-age. Even now, some nearly 30 years later, the sitcom has found a new audience of youngins which speaks to the Black magic of the cast’s chemistry and relatability.
Besides acting and doing voiceovers, Carson has also been gifted with a honey-coated singing voice that will transcend a listener; it is mellifluous and spellbinding. Carson once demonstrated his singing ability on Living Single when he performed the classic tune My Funny Valentine where he sang to his inamorata (see below). The man’s rendition of the song gave many of the show’s female viewers the vapors because his vocal quality was so mesmerizing.
The jazz vocalist extraordinaire’s latest single Come Together is an original piece that was written in part by Carson and was originally released on his album Truth (2002). The single is a multi-fold response that addresses societal racism. Carson spotlights how the deck is stacked against Black people because so many are senselessly killed at the hands of law enforcement. In the song, the Chicago-born performer emphasizes that there is one race, humankind, and how love should be a common denominator and not hate. Come Together which is accompanied by a video and Carson’s heart-melting rendition of the jazz standard My Funny Valentine are available on all digital platforms.
Carson opened up about his career, personal life, and everything in between.
50BOLD: First of all, I must ask you this. Your speaking voice is so captivating, strong, it possesses such vitality and authority; how did you perfect its quality or is it a natural gift?
Carson: Well, first of all, thank you so much for the compliment. I’ve had a deep voice since I was a young kid. People used to call the house and ask to speak to my wife. I was like, “Okay, Mom, telephone!” My voice has been deep since I was in the 6th or 7th grade, something like that.
50BOLD: Tell us about the Carson household. Where did you grow up? What was your family life like?
Well, I grew up in a single-family household, just me and my Mom. And we lived in the projects on Chicago’s southwest side. And I also had a couple of aunts and cousins who lived out there as well. Back in those days, we lived in what they called low risers; buildings that were only two to three stories tall. They were actually more like townhouses. In a unit, we had an upstairs and downstairs, two bedrooms; it was really nice. My Mom made sure that we lived well. Our home looked like something out of the House & Garden magazine. She sewed. She made curtains. She made pillows. She painted. She hung wallpaper. She showed me at an early age that just because we didn’t have much money, didn’t mean we had to live poorly. My Mom proved we could live well on a budget.
The projects I grew up in are no more; the entire complex is gone. The buildings were torn down, and I realized that they haven’t built anything else in that area because it was in a flood plain, and nobody wants to build anything there. The laundry room in the basement would always flood when it rained. So oftentimes, we couldn’t go downstairs to do the laundry. And yet, projects were built on a flood plain?
50BOLD: Wow, the things we go through in our childhood, unbelievable!
Carson: It only makes us stronger; it makes us who we are.
50BOLD: I read somewhere that you had an interest in interior design; did you inherit this interest from your Mom?
Carson: Absolutely! Both my Mom and Dad, once I got to know him, were really into interior design. I learned you can have a nice place to live and not have to spend a lot of money. I went to school for architecture and interior design. It is very important to understand that how you live in your space, dictates how you walk outside that door.
50BOLD: You’re such an extraordinary singer and actor. What is your first love, and how did you become interested in doing both?
Carson: Music is definitely my first love. I’ve been singing since fifth grade when I appeared on stage to sing for the very first time. And from that point on, I knew singing was something I really wanted to do. When I was growing up, there was a program in the inner city called The Title Six. The program brought music, theater, and dance to inner-city kids and this is when I really knew performing was something I wanted to do.
50BOLD: Does musical talent course through your family or are you the only one who possesses this ability?
Carson: My Mom used to sing around the house all the time. Mom didn’t think she had a great voice, but it is really beautiful. And one of my Aunts used to sing, and that’s it. As far as I know, none of my cousins or other relatives sings. (laughs) Now watch, when the article comes out, I’m going to get phone calls (laughs). So, I will repeat, no other family members can sing that I know of (laughs)!
50BOLD: I saw you perform your version of the classic My Funny Valentine on Living Single and I was wowed! And then I saw you sing the song again live; your performance knocked my socks off! When you’re singing My Funny Valentine, what are you summoning up to make your rendition so powerful?
Carson: Well, it’s about the content of the words that you’re singing. Like today, I think a lot of singers are into tricks. The tricks and the track are what make the song current. But back in the day when you listened to jazz standards, you read words that told a story. Vocalists are storytellers first, I believe. If you can use your tricks to tell a story, then use your tricks to tell a story! Now, if the tricks are just tricks, then they kind of take away from the actual story of a song–any song.
So, when I think about My Funny Valentine, I imagine what is being said to a person. There’s something about the song’s words that are so poignant to the people involved. They want the moment to last forever. And I believe that at some point in our lives, there is a love that we wanted to make last forever. So, as a vocalist, I try to connect to the humanity and the universality of a situation.
You know, love is universal. Desire and want are universal. Pain is universal. Joy is universal. So, you try to connect to find those things in music that will summon up feelings and that will take you places. And that’s the whole thing about music and about the craft of acting. If you allow yourself to be taken away by what it is, you’ll be surprised where you might find yourself.
50BOLD: Wow! I didn’t expect such a profound response (laughs)! When you were on Living Single, did you have any input with regards to the character of Kyle?
Carson: I think the writers had an idea as to who the show’s characters were. When the characters come to life, and they saw what we brought to them, we were able to take them in a different direction. I did have some input on how Kyle dressed. I really wanted him to represent the Afrocentricity of us and do it in a way that was modern, beautiful, and sexy. They were able to find the clothing and jewelry, and I added articles in as well to give Kyle the look he had on the show.
50BOLD: Oh yes, you can certainly wear vests my brotha (laughs)! You made a vest work with anything you had on whether it was a 3-piece suit or jeans; you killed it!
Carson: We had really good designers who actually listened. They really listened to all of us.
50BOLD: I have to circle back to the My Funny Valentine episode where you are singing directly to Max; was her reaction natural, your idea, or the writers?
Carson: When you go with what’s going on and don’t try to stop how you’re feeling, then you get the goal and Erika was really in the moment and this is what I love about working with her. Erika and I were like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. If I stepped left, she stepped right. Our chemistry was music. I loved working with that girl. And she was brilliant in that scene by the way. She’s amazing.
50BOLD: Who are a few of your musical influences?
Carson: My musical influences began with vocalists like Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Lou Rawls, Sara Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nancy Wilson. My mother played recordings from all of these artists. On Saturdays, I’d get up and watch cartoons. But then when Mom got up, the cartoons would go off. And she’d say, “Come on,” and then we would clean the house. And so, I grew up listening to all those wonderful vocalists and learning what jazz sounded like from those artists.
As I got a little older and began buying records, the music I listened to came from artists like Michael Jackson, The Temptations, The Spinners, Gil Scott-Heron, Earth Wind & Fire. And as I got older still, I started listening to Al Jarreau who really showed me there was a different way to sing, along with Bobby McFerrin. I learned I could interpret music in a different way and this really pushed me forward.
50BOLD: If you had your druthers would you prefer to be known as a singer or actor?
Carson: I’d prefer to be known as both a singer and actor. I think in the industry, people put you in boxes because it’s more comfortable for them. And quite frankly, our Caucasian counterparts get to explore boxes more than we do. Once we get a role that is prominent, then we get stuck in that place and it’s hard for people to see us as two different beings. So, I’m glad to hear you say that you enjoy my music because that’s what I strive to be, an all-around performer. I do sing. I do dance. I do act. So, to me, a performer should be able to do all three things even if they don’t use them.
You should have trained, learned how to sing, act and dance because then you become an all-around performer. When I sing, the fact that I have had dance training helps me in my movement. When I sing, my acting also helps me to express the story better. When I’m acting, my dance movement makes the scene better. So, all of these elements work hand-in-hand.
50BOLD: I have to ask you this, is it true you used to be a doorman?
Carson: (laughs) Yes, I worked as a doorman when I first came home from school. It was my first job when I got back to Chicago. If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t have eaten (laughs)!
50BOLD: Trust me, I know! Who are some of the more contemporary singers you enjoy listening to these days?
Carson: Oh yeah, I love me some Ledisi, she’s an amazing vocalist. The things she can do with her vocal instrument are just incredible. I also like Rachelle Ferrell who is a vocalist and musician.
50BOLD: You’re obviously best known for your role in Living Single. What was it like working on a show with all of those talented performers? And are you still in contact with your former co-stars?
Carson: I’ll answer the last question first. Yes, we are still in contact with one another. We have a chat that we get on where we check in with one another. I talk to Kim Coles and Erika more than anyone else. But I also do chat with John Henton, Queen Latifah, and Kim Fields, every once in a while. It was really amazing to work on the show, it was my first comedic series. I was on a series before called Key West with Fisher Stevens and Jennifer Tilly but the show was more serious.
Living Single had an all-Black cast, it was really amazing for me to be on that set. The people I worked with on the show were amazing. Queen was so good, her timing, her instincts, were so right and on point. Queen didn’t even know how good she was. We had Kim and Erika who were the veterans on the set. Kim was a cast member on the sketch comedy show In Living Color. The people who were not veterans were John, Queen, and I.
When we all met, there was instant chemistry. Erika likes to refer to our chemistry as lightning in a bottle. The creators of the show got really lucky with the cast they put together for Living Single.
50BOLD: Speaking of the cast what was your audition process like to get on that show?
Carson: I auditioned for the show and they said “No!” They came back around and brought me out to LA for a screen test. I came in on a Tuesday, the screen test was held on Wednesday, and then, I went to work on Thursday. I was the last person they were looking to cast for the show. The third time’s a charm, I guess.
50BOLD: How much of the Kyle character was fictitious and how much was actually you?
Carson: Depends on who you ask (laughs)! For me, it was such a mixture. I crafted the character of Kyle from several people I know like my father, a doctor friend of mine, another friend of mine. I pulled things from these people and kind of created him. And then I added pieces of me to Kyle as well. I mean his love for his people is part of who I am. Kyle’s respect for women and how he treated his sisters is part of who I am. Kyle’s love for the African Diaspora is part of who I am. So, I was able to infuse into the character of Kyle traits I knew we hadn’t seen before. I think everyone was working to create characters who were different than what people had seen before.
50BOLD: You brought such an awareness to the character of Kyle Barker. Folks wondered what happened to your character and why you were written out of the show because you were so integral. Why did you actually leave the show?
Carson: I can tell you what I think took place. We had issues on set sometimes and would bring those issues to the Powers that Be. In a lot of instances, I would be the spokesperson. What I learned was that when you’re the spokesperson for “the problem,” then you become “the problem.” So, they got rid of “the problem.” What they didn’t understand was that every decision we made was a group decision but the Powers that Be didn’t see things this way. So, they did what they thought they needed to do in order to keep control and peace.
50BOLD: Did you feel you were blacklisted after leaving the show?
Carson: Absolutely! Even to this day I still feel I was blacklisted!
50BOLD: What have you done to circumvent that action and move on with your acting career?
Carson: Well, I’ve moved on with other projects. Right now, I am the lead designer on a new jazz club here in Atlanta called Rebels. We open in the Spring. It’s going to be a space for jazz artists and headliners. It’s located on the west side of the city which is our neighborhood, and it’s owned by a brother. I’m also working on a cooking show called, T.C.’s Recipe, but it is actually more than a cooking show, it is recipes for life.
I talk to young people all the time and I’ve come to realize how we’ve stopped teaching them. They don’t know how to cook. They don’t like to do laundry. They don’t know how to grocery or take care of a house. So, my show will hopefully impart the things I learned from my Mom and aunties to younger people nowadays. Hopefully, they will receive information in a way where they’ll have a good time watching it and learn something as well.
So, I stopped looking for validation from Hollywood and from those people saying, “we’re going to get you a job.” It’s about creating our own jobs. It’s about creating our own work. And if Tyler Perry has shown me nothing else, he has shown me that if you service us, you can make your money. But you have to service us. So, my job right now is to figure out what we need, and how can I service us.
50BOLD: Absolutely! You come across as a no-nonsense, no BS kind of brother, someone who speaks his mind. Would you say that being so forthright is a bit of a detriment to your Hollywood career?
Carson: It depends on who you ask (laughs)! Well, that was what, over 20 years ago? When you think about how the world was back then and how Hollywood was back then, the overall attitude was “just shut up and be glad you’ve got a job!” So, when you speak your mind and you have an opinion, it kind of stops the room because you’re not supposed to have an opinion. But at the time, I was kind of the oldest person on the set, so, I was like, well, you asked me! Don’t ask for my opinion if it’s not really wanted.
50BOLD: You now live in Atlanta. What made you stake roots in the south?
Carson: I needed a change. I experienced a lot of loss in LA before I moved here. I lost my mom. I lost all the work that was coming in; everything ended. I lost my house. I lost my relationship. And it’s hard to start a new life in the middle of your old life. So, I moved to someplace where I could actually start a new life and find work. I have friends and family in Atlanta, so it all made sense to make a move here.
50BOLD: Congratulations, on starting anew! What else is on the drawing board for TC Carson?
Carson: I’m still doing music. Once the club opens it will be a place where I will be able to go and sing. We’re working on a new album. I know people are saying you’ve been working on that album for five years but if it’s not right, I’m not going to put it out. I’m just working to make sure that the project is right. But hopefully, this year we’ll get some new music out. I’m just really working to stay creative and to make a difference in my community. I think these are the biggest things.
We have been taught for so long that in order to be successful, you have to leave your community. You have to turn your back on your community. And during this time period, we see that those “powers that be” aren’t going to necessarily take care of you! If we start turning our talents, our money, and our focus back to our community and start taking better care of us, then we can move past this. And once everything opens back up, we’ll be fine. But if we don’t start taking better care of us, we’ll never get to where we want to go. Never!
50BOLD: You appear to be in pretty great shape. What is your healthy lifestyle regimen?
Carson: I work out three to five days a week. I walk. I try to eat healthily. I eat fried foods but not in abundance. I’m working to demonstrate how you can still be fit after 50. You really can! You can be fit after 67 and you don’t have to live in a gym. You can work out at home.
50BOLD: How are you maintaining your sanity during this pandemic?
Carson: Mental health is so important, and we don’t really talk about it enough. Since I’ve been here in Atlanta, I started seeing a therapist; I’ve never seen one before. I see her once a week. I get up and I work out like I said three to five days a week. At least 5 days a week, I meditate in the morning for about 15 or 20 minutes which helps to center my day. And these are the things that have kept me moving forward during these troubled times.
Now, of course, I have binged out on the couch for a minute, kind of drank a little bit too much (laughs) but then I realized that I can’t live like that. So, I started doing those positive, energizing, and creative things that have helped me to remain centered throughout this time.