Music direction is the story of Rickey Minor’s life, and he somehow keeps taking new steps to higher achievement.
But if you’ve been the musical director of the Grammys, “American Idol” and now the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” what other heights are left to climb?
If you’ve been musical director for the nation’s most incandescent artists, such as Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Ray Charles, Beyonce Knowles, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and many more, who else is there to work with?
On Sunday, Minor will be teamed again with Stevie Wonder and Friends in Global Soul at the Hollywood Bowl, a project that was Minor’s idea.
He told Rolling Stone recently that after watching a meeting between Gwen Stefani and the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), he had an idea for a soul music celebration that would benefit music education. “[So] I called Stevie Wonder after seeing the kids and said, ‘Listen, I’m thinking about getting a music festival, would you do it with me?’ He said yes and from then on everything else just kind of fell into place.”
What, or who, fell in place for the festival at the Hollywood Bowl were Sharon Jones, Janelle Monae, Grace Potter, Rocky Dawuni, Ceci Bastida, Bombino and the Soul Seekers. Newly added to the lineup are the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and Charles Bradley, “the screaming eagle of soul.” The show is part of the KCRW World Festival series.
“What happened with this show is there are far too many artists who want to be on this show that didn’t get a chance to be on it,” Minor said in the Rolling Stone interview. “So we have a lot of artists who are interested, a few that may come up anyway who just want to do something.”
When he was leaving American Idol last year, Minor told Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch: “I look at it as a graduation of sorts. Like graduating college. You can’t be a lifetime college student. So I have my master’s from Idol, and now I’m going on to get my Ph.D. at The Tonight Show. If you don’t go, you won’t grow.”
Minor has grown a great deal since arriving in Los Angeles from Monroe, La., at age 9 with his mother, two brothers and two sisters. His grandmother had come out about a year earlier and sent for the rest of the family.
By the time he was 14, Minor had found the electric bass. The instrument and his personal drive launched a career that might not have yet achieved its arc. After graduating from Jefferson High School, Minor entered UCLA as a computer science major, but a gig with Gladys Knight and the Pips interrupted his college education. Following that, he became music director for Whitney Houston, whom he met when he was 22 and she was 18.
Even today, Minor says one of his most memorable achievements was producing the national anthem for Houston for Super Bowl 25.