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Noah Stewart: From 'Opera Boy' To Singer

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When tenor Noah Stewart was growing up in Harlem, N.Y., his friends called him "opera boy." They were onto something.

Earlier this year, he became the first black singer to hit No. 1 on the classical music charts in the U.K.

But Stewart's musical tastes aren't confined to Puccini, Bizet and Strauss, and his new, self-titled album gives him a chance to put his mark on everything from American spirituals to Top 40 hits.

Stewart says he doesn't mind being called an opera singer, but that he would rather just be called a singer.

"One of my colleagues said, 'No, you're not even a tenor, you're just a man with a high voice,'" he says.

When he told his mother he wanted to be an opera singer, she told him that opera was for older people. He quickly set her straight. At the time, Stewart thought pop and Broadway music were much safer than opera, and he didn't see many people of color in opera, so he wanted to make a contribution.

Stewart's new album is semi-autobiographical, each song marks a different chapter in his life. The track "Without a Song" is particularly important to him right now.

"I think that people are important in the world and we all have a connection to each other; I wanted to relay that because there was a time in my life where people kind of counted me out," he says. "I would hear things like, 'Is Noah still singing? Is that guy still around?' And I'm so thankful that I stayed in it, because I knew that I had something to say and I knew that I had a song as well."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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