Local crooner Royce "The Voice" Javan has come a long way since mimicking television commercial jingles as a child growing up in Brevard, North Carolina.
"I knew I could sing when I was a kid, about four or five years old. I found that out from responses by my family who could hear me sing," Javan said. "We would watch Sunday TV and gather around the TV in the living room. One habit I developed, I had instant memory of commercials. I would jump off the floor and run into the kitchen and someone knew to follow me. I would open the fridge, and that was my spotlight, and recite what I just heard. When it was over, I would do it again, as if it was a musical."
After singing in his school and church choirs, Javan studied music at Mars Hill University, where he was a walk-on running back on the football team. By his third year, he was on the road with the great Duke Ellington Orchestra, eventually becoming lead singer under the late Mercer Ellington's leadership. It was during that time Javan roomed with the late great Marcus Belgrave, who would take him out after shows for impromptu jam sessions with local bands wherever they played.
The ability to sit in with other musicians served as part of Javan's training after college when he moved to the Detroit area to pursue a music career. He first joined the Lyman Woodard Organization – the organ player who helped define Detroit's jazz-funk sound – as lead singer, then with Norma Jean Bell and the All Stars, the house band at Detroit's Axles Lounge, on 8 Mile Road.
"I got real exposure in Detroit," Javan said. "We would go to Axles on Sunday night for jam sessions, and I would sit in there before I became a member. I got to sing a few songs and showcase myself. Eventually, they hired me as the lead singer."
Now living and working in Birmingham and the surrounding area, Javan can be seen with the Royce and Jenn Band, featuring his longtime musical partner Jennifer Christiansen. Keeping a busy calendar of local gigs, Javan also devotes time to recording originals and performing with other musicians.
For those who haven't heard Javan sing live, chances are you've heard his voice on television or the radio, as he has served as the National Anthem Singer for the NBA Detroit Pistons during the team's Bad Boy era. He also revisited his childhood singing, recording his own jingles and voiceover work on dozens of commercials, including President Tuxedo, Buick, Pontiac, White Castle, and several metro-Detroit malls. He's also done commercial voiceover work as Louie Armstrong and James Brown, and even body-doubled as Barry Sanders.
With more than three decades in the music business, Javan has sung with many of musical greats, including Peabo Bryson, Nancy Wilson and Lou Rawls, and has opened for artists like Al Green, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Paul Anka and others, including his distant cousin, Roberta Flack. And it's, perhaps, from his family where Javan gained his signature singing style.
"My mom was a first soprano, and her brother was a professional recoding artist in his prime. He was the first to give me lessons on singing, primarily how to hold long notes," he said. "I was determined to hold a note longer than him. That's one of my trademarks now."
Photo: Laurie Tennent