Hernando grown operatic star wins his first Grammy.
At this year’s Grammy ceremony, a former Hernando County resident stood on the stage and claimed the 2022 Grammy award for Best Opera Recording. The honor went to Zachary James, which Playbill called “a Broadway alum” when they honored him and castmates for winning the top operatic honor for “Philip Glass’ Akhnaten,” a modern opera. And before he sang and danced in the Broadway spotlight, James grew up in Spring Hill and graduated from Springstead High School.
Zachary James shared, “At the Grammys I was on the red carpet, standing close to Joni Mitchell. Then I was in the theater, seeing people like Lady Gaga and being in a room with people who had dedicated their lives to music. Then I was in my seat, not quite believing what I was hearing as they called our names.” Although this marks James’ inaugural Grammy win, he was named the BroadwayWorld 2010-2020 Vocalist and Performer of the Decade, the 2019 Breakout Opera Artist of the Year by Verismo Magazine, the Most Innovative Opera Singer of 2019 by The Classical Post, and he was named an Official Ambassador for Opera America.
And whether he’s portraying Abraham Lincoln in “The Perfect American” or Lurch in the Broadway musical version of “The Addams Family,” James finds true happiness and contentment in the power of his signature bass vocals. He has a lifelong love for music and theatrical arts. James said, “The first time I sang, it didn’t feel like my voice. It felt like something coming through me.” It was Pam Surbaugh, a one time music educator at JD Floyd Elementary, that first identified this award-winning voice. James shared, “I started singing in elementary school, when my teacher heard my voice and asked me to do a solo of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World.” James hails from a musical lineage; His father Frederick Poholek is a recording artist and guitar teacher who still resides in Spring Hill. “I started playing piano at 3,” James said. “I was a pretty shy, quiet kid, looking for a form of self-expression.”
James continued his musical studies at Powell Middle School, then found additional mentors in Springstead High School’s music teachers Richard Dasher and Mark Pennington. As a drum major in the Springstead marching band under Dasher’s guidance, he learned the finer points of musical theater from Pennington and appeared onstage at Springstead High in productions such as “Grease” and “Once Upon a Mattress.” James shared, “I love the costumes, the expression and the creativity of musical theater and performance.”
And his instructors loved James’ contributions to their class productions. Richard Dasher stated, “Zack was a leader and a talented student in his time at Springstead. His father is a musician, and I assumed he would become a professional musician, but I thought it would be as a percussionist. He was my drum major in 1998.” Next Mark Pennington shared, “Zachary graduated in 2000. He was an outstanding band and choral student. He participated in shows like ‘Grease’ and ‘A Christmas Carol.’ One of the most determined and dedicated young men I have had the pleasure of teaching in 30 years.”
Today James credits his artistic education with forming and developing his talents. He stated, “Arts education is everything. It was the gentle influence of my teachers that led to my success.” A success that now has spanned nearly two decades. “I really loved the theater, and I thought, ‘I’ll try this, and see if I can do it.’ And this marks my 19th year in the business,” he said. He also cites the positive influence of comedic superstar Nathan Lane, who he said gave him valuable advice and guidance during the production of “The Addams Family” musical. He also has appeared in major productions that include “Sweeney Todd,” “Macbeth,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Don Giovanni,” “Man of La Mancha,” and many others. He also has performed acting roles on television shows such as “30 Rock” and “Murphy Brown.” He has performed at the Tony Awards, the Macy’s Parade, and on David Letterman.
In the Grammy Award-winning opera “Philip Glass’ Akhnaten,” he plays Amenhotep III, father to Akhnaten, in an opera in three acts based on the life of an Egyptian pharaoh. James is set to return to this role May 19 at The Metropolitan Opera in New York. He will then perform in “The Pirates of Penzance” on July 7-10, at The Cincinnati Opera, “Edward Tulane” on Oct. 8-16 at The Minnesota Opera, and “Tosca” at the LA Opera starting Nov. 19. In the meantime, James is savoring his victory at the 2022 Grammy Awards. He stated, “The feeling is out of this world. It’s a dream come true.”