When Bruno Mars performs live at the Super Bowl halftime before 100-plus million television viewers on Sunday, Kameron T. Whalum, a super-talented trombone player with deep Memphis roots, will be in his familiar spot amid Mar's onstage backers, aka the Hooligans.
I'll be in front of a television – super-proud of the man who grew out of the youngster that I once made the starting point guard and captain of the basketball team that I coached and mentored at New Olivet Baptist Church, where Kameron's dad, the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., is pastor. Kameron made all the difference in the season we had that summer, as we blew some teams out by halftime. When the games were tight, rather than going off – as I sometimes have – I'd leave the locker room (after knocking over some paper cups) and allowed Kameron to motivate them.
I detected leadership in Kameron; he carried an aura of winning, an essential trait shared by many successful people. He absolutely had it as a child, not at all surprising considering the ample supply of role models in the Whalum family tree. With the big game looming, Kameron and I shared this conversation.
Kelvin Cowans – What's it feeling like lil bro, you getting ready to perform with Bruno Mars in front of roughly 110 million people. You ready? How does it feel?
Kameron Whalum – It feels good man. I would say it's a dream come true, but to be honest, I never really thought about doing the Super Bowl, but I watch it all the time and it is huge. So honestly, it was beyond my thoughts, and now that we're doing it, it's crazy. It's going to be fun to be up there with Bruno Mars and my fellow Hooligans and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
KC – I was checking out your Twitter pics and it showed where you guys were doing a show in Colorado and the crowd was enormous. How do you deal with performing in front of that many people.
KW – Crowds get me excited. The crowds of like a couple hundred people are more nerve racking for me because it's more intimate and I can see that person's face and that persons face. But when there are thousands and thousands of people it's easier to do. I'm far more nervous to sing at church than I am (before) 15,000 people. ...
KC – What's the show looking like, any new songs? Come on now, tell it all.
KW – Ha! Bro, I can't tell you all that but I can tell you that it's going to be fun to watch. The people are surely going to get what they're use to getting from us. You're going to get good songs and a good time. We're going to make you forget about the game for a minute.
KC – As a former mentor of yours I'm overly excited to see you perform at the halftime of the Super Bowl. I feel just as proud as your family does to see you on such a large stage in your career. Can you share with the readers the importance of mentors to youth.
KW – Mentors are very important to the development of young people. I appreciated having you around because you were consistent. Everybody thought you were cool but you were also sincere and that goes a long way. You along with other men that dedicated yourselves to us whether it was for sleepovers in the gym or trips or the basketball team or the debate team, we felt that. So much so that now that I'm a little older, I myself realize that the young men around our church are now watching me. So what do I do? I reflect on how my mentors treated me and display to these young guys a positive picture.
When they see me on "Saturday Night Live" or doing a show for Victoria Secrets or performing on an awards show, then they see me later that week right there in church with them and talking with them. I'm around all the time so that they can ask questions. Even when they're not asking questions they're always watching and I know that.
My parent's taught me that people will now always watch everything you say and do and they meant everything. So I'm cool with that and I respect that. If you don't want to be watched in my field of work, then you have to go do something else.
KC –You mentioned to me that (after the Super Bowl) you have a set that you are doing down on Beale Street. What's that about?
KW – Kameron Whalum live at The Hard Rock Café on Feb. 7th at 9 p.m. It's my first show and I just want to introduce myself to people that may just know me from Bruno Mars or the church. I want to make my name in demand more than what it is. I'm bringing it together so that people can know that I really love music. I make beats, I play the trombone and I produce. I write songs as well and I compose music and I do sing.
I sung on the "Ellen" show and about a month or so ago I sang the National Anthem at our Memphis Grizzlies game. I'm doing things and I just want to bring them to the front. The truth is I've been doing a lot of these things since middle school. On that night I just want people to come out and enjoy my show, close your eyes and just mellow out to some of these songs.
KC – I'm very aware of your musical talents and happy to be able to say that some of your beats will be featured on my album this summer. Can we dare say that we'll get a Kameron Whalum album in the future.
KW – Hopefully. I'm very happy where I am right now being with Bruno and being a Hooligan. We're about to get ready to go back on tour in Australia and Asia and then we start an American tour, so we on the grind. But yes, to make an album was my dream growing up, that and being an NBA player. I didn't know I was going to be 6 foot 1. Had I known then, I would've taking it a bit more serious, ha!
KC – I noticed you guys are always playing ball like all the time. Are they real like that, they play ball like we do in Memphis or what? Can Bruno play good?
KW – In the states we hoop everywhere because we're playing in NBA arenas; everywhere from the Miami Heat court on down. It's part of our work out and so everybody plays. Performing is hard work, so you have to stay in shape.
KC – Can Bruno hoop? Seriously? He's like 4 foot and two books.
KW – Believe it or no, Bruno got game. He's got an unorthodox game and it's hard to defend.
KC – I will accept that publicly. Tell me something, who are some of the most down-to-earth entertainers that you've met?
KW – Honestly, I haven't met anyone who wasn't; Katy Perry, Miley Sirus, Usher, Boys to Men, Babyface and The Beach Boys. The Beach Boys came out to hear us play one night and they told Bruno that they hadn't heard a trombone player like that in a long time and I was taken away by that compliment. These are the Beach Boys. But everyone has been cool.
KC – Looks like you're amongst family then because I know you're cool. The student has become the teacher.
KW – Thanks bro! Everybody stay tuned, I have big stuff coming up. Follow me on Twitter @kameronwhalum or Instagram kameronwhalum.
AT A GLANCE
Kameron T. Whalum
Background: The son of Sheila Whalum and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., pastor of The New Olivet Baptist Church. A line of talented musicians runs through his family, including his brothers, saxophonist Kenneth T. Whalum III and Kortland Whalum; and his uncles, Kevin Whalum and Grammy Award winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum.
Education: Overton High School; Morehouse College
Upcoming performances: Feb. 1st – Super Bowl halftime show with Bruno Mars and the Hooligans. Feb. 7th – Kameron Whalum live at The Hard Rock Café on Feb. 7th at 9 p.m.