I attended RENAISSANCE CHILD: A Celebration of the Life and Art of Avery Ernest Ellington Thompson last night at SOPAC (the South Orange Performing Arts Center) with a packed house and once again was overwhelmed by the amazing attributes of the late Avery Thompson who passed at only seventeen.
It was a mix of music, eulogies, and video and audio recordings of Avery in action while he was still among us physically. As I wrote in a previous post, after witnessing his talents in person at the BIG DREAM concert, also at SOPAC, I was inspired. After last night, even more so.
This teenager, who suffered from the Leukemia that took his life, enduring chemotherapy, weakness, tiredness and disappointment, still never stopped writing and performing music, from rap to r&b, making and editing videos of his impersonations and comedy routines, as well as making and editing short movies and a potential TV series...
Before he became too ill he was also a top level student and athlete, able to dunk a basketball and play on championship teams. He was (and will always remain in videos and recordings and online) exactly what the foundation that has been created to help kids like him is named after, "a renaissance child."
Even in the last weeks of his life, physically exhausted from all the chemotherapy and the end stages of his disease, he had the determination to get himself to New York and to an audition for AMERICA'S GOT TALENT. At the event last night, one of the video presentations was Howie Mandel addressing the audience at the event, with the other judges from the show beside him, telling us all how impressed they were with Avery's talent and how they all felt he would have been a huge star.
Keenan Thompson, no relative, but one of the cast of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE who only met Avery once in the hallway at SNL was so impressed and impacted he too made a little video presentation for the event telling of how affected he was by this teenager's passing, someone he was instantly impressed by, not just for his courage and determination to make people laugh with his impressions and jokes, but by his spirit, something that lives on for many of us who have only been in Avery's physical presence once.
I want to see someone make a documentary about this amazing young man, a genius really, who could sing, rap, impersonate (and do all three, making one rap recording, REUNION, in which he does the voices of numerous rappers without editorial help, producing and recording it himself, etc.), and so much more.
Every moment was special, including the testimonies of one of his uncles, his little sister, one of his friends, his fifth grade teacher and one of his aunt's (Mindy Thompson Fullilove, whose book URBAN ALCHEMY I've posted about, and whose assessment of Avery and his impact was almost scientifically precise and measured and yet still deeply moving).
But one of the highlights, for me, of the event last night, other than the testimonies from Avery's family and friends, was when the comic and impersonator Dion Flynn (who I first encountered as a wonderful singer), who does Obama on Jimmy Fallon's TONIGHT SHOW, admitted that he'd only talked to Avery on the phone but how Avery's Obama was not only better than his, Flynn's, Obama impersonation, but better than any impersonator out there, as a teenager!.
Flynn had a speech prepared but after hearing the testimony of others and seeing some of the clips before he was called to the stage, he discarded that speech and instead gave heartfelt witness to Avery's genius, so heartfelt he was in tears before he was halfway through, especially when voicing his conviction that Avery, like him, had begun doing the voices of others because there were so many people inside him trying to express themselves.
I'm not doing Dion Flynn's actual testimony justice, but it sure had me crying, as well as thinking he nailed it. The essence of Avery's genius, his desire not just to make people laugh and entertain them, but to express all the kinds and levels of understanding and insight he had inside him about his fellow humans. An extraordinary boy, a teenage genius, a renaissance child.
[This YouTube tribute to Avery I found doesn't do his many talents justice, but it does display his singing chops (his father and a friend playing guitars behind him) and give voice to the poignancy he was also capable of, knowing full well what he was facing not long after this was made:]