Christylez Bacon (Courtesy of Smithsonian Institute)
Christylez Bacon (Courtesy of Smithsonian Institute)

D.C. native and musician Christylez brings an eccentric flair to the local music scene as the face of the Strathmore’s “Live from the Mansion” weekly concert series, providing exposure and support to varying District artists amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Christylez Bacon, hailing from Southeast, has garnered a unique sound inspired by the city’s culture and music.

“It was very rough and dangerous growing up, but we would also see so much life,” Christylez said. “During times of such hardships in our hoods, we’ve had the highest of highs too, with block parties, live go go’s, and a lot of culture. It’s a mix of good and bad, but I’ve been focused on the good these days.”

Growing up raised by a musically inclined mother with a knack for Djing, Christylez was exposed to the art of beatboxing through hip-hop great Doug E. Fresh, whose influence helped shape his sound.

A self-taught musician and alumni of the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Northwest, Christylez read countless books and material to help foster his ability to read, write and compose his own musical pieces.

“My mother will tell you, she graduated high school by the skin of her teeth, and she wasn’t ashamed of that,” he said. “She would instead tell me, I will buy you any encyclopedia or book that you need. So when I can’t answer your questions, you can go and find answers. So that seed being planted helped a brother to understand that we can search for answers and work to teach ourselves.”

Over years of released projects and collaborations around the city, Christylez found himself paired with influential figures who recruited the artist to partner in District-wide projects and beyond.

The Strathmore Music Center caught wind of his initiatives in his Southeast community and was impressed by a performance on Martin Luther King Day at the National Cathedral. The residence program reached out, soliciting his aura and influence to add to their repository of talent during the 2007-08 year.

“I became the first artist to sell out all of their concerts in a month of residency,” Christylez said.

The Strathmore residency served as a life-changing experience for the rising musician, allowing him to cross paths with world-renowned banjo player Cathy Fink. The two collaborated for the children’s album “Banjos to Beatbox,” which scored a Grammy nomination in 2010 next to mainstream reggae and contemporary artists such as Ziggy Marley.

Although it has been years since his residency, Christylez and the Strathmore have maintained a solid working relationship, as he continues to contribute to the center’s programming.

The abrupt hit of COVID-19 inspired the performing arts center to create a platform sustaining their artist showcases. Strathmore chose Christylez to host the concert series with a culturally curated lineup of performances from different artists around the world, filmed from a historic mansion in North Bethesda.

“We started developing a different level of savvy,” he said. “With Strathmore holding these concerts, not only are they giving music to the people out there and keeping a safe space for the musicians and audience members, but they’re also able to keep paying musicians at this time which is awesome.”

All performing acts showcased in the series are either current or previous musicians in the Strathmore Artist in Residence program.

The Washingtonian artist has additionally used the downtime amid the current health emergency to complete his album with a newly released single “Quarantined,” now featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, and streaming on Soundcloud.

“I’m doing my album release on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube simultaneously. I’m speaking to my D.C. folks, but I’m also speaking to my audience and fanbase in Brazil and abroad at the same time,” Christylez said. “We’re doing these live broadcasts and not only are we reaching our regular audience, but we’re also reaching the world at the same time. So now we have a global audience every time that we go live.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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