By John Benson
Local singer Stefano Nu*Soul, who will open for the Tony! Toni! Toné! show Friday at Powers Auditorium, is hoping to find out if his career is meant to be.
So far, all signs from above appear to be in the favor of this Youngstown veteran, who imbues an empowering sense of spirituality into the style defined by his stage name. How exactly did he end up as a local opener for this high- profile show?
“Originally, people were asking for R&B artists in the area that can deliver, and I was the first person that came to a lot of people’s lips,” said Lester Stanford Jr. (AKA Stefano Nu*Soul), a 1998 East High School graduate. “That’s just from the fan base that I built doing my open mics and the genuineness of what I do. People know me. They really know me, and it’s nothing to brag about. I’m just grateful that people recognize that.”
Stanford got his start in the mid-’90s singing with Christian group Young Men Sent. When that act broke up in 2006, the singer, poet and writer quickly evolved into Stefano Nu*Soul, a positive artist influenced by R&B, soul and hip-hop music. Eventually, he started his Nu*Blaze open-mic nights at the Heart Reach Ministries. The monthly events provided him stage time, as well as an outlet for community members to showcase their talents, ranging from spoken word to poetry, comedy, rap and dance.
Musically, he released his debut mixtape “Nu*Blades Open Mic Vol. 1,” which includes the ballad “Would U B Mine,” the groove-oriented “Angel Girl” and the laid-back “Eat My Words.” He’s working on his debut full-length, “Metaphors of a Man,” which is due out later this year.
“I know my purpose in life is to encourage and help people on whatever level and whatever magnitude,” said Stanford, 31, who works as a Youngstown City Schools linkage coordinator. “Whenever people are singing my songs or listening, I hope it’s uplifting in the form of a relationship. That they can identify with my songs. It’s not like I’m singing about driving in 20-inch rims and bling-bling. I’m not going to talk about those types of things. My music connects with the reality of people. It has a spiritual undertone, a Christian undertone.”
Someone who instantly saw the talent in Stanford, who is often compared to Musiq Soulchild and Dwele, is WRBP-FM 101.9 midday disc jockey Tiffany Allen. She owns TuLuv Entertainment, which manages Stanford.
“I saw a lot of potential from going to a couple of his open mics,” said Warren resident Allen. “It made me want to manage him seeing that he was in a different realm from gospel to neo soul. Looking forward, we’ve already been to Albany, N.Y., and we have plans to go to Boston and Los Angeles this summer. We’re just really pushing for him to be one of those mainstream neo-soul artists.”
Naturally, Stanford understands how the game works. Being an opening act for Tony! Toni! Toné! has its limitations, the biggest of which is the audience may come late and miss his show. This is where his confidence in a higher power comes into play regarding not only the upcoming gig but his career in general.
“I think I bring something unique that’s a little bit different from what they experience at regular concerts,” Stanford said. “Just the fact that I’m going to take it back to these different genres and show the relevance of now, I think they’ll miss out on a lot if they’re late. I just hope they come.”
He quickly added: “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”