Black Diamond offers Neil Diamond tribute at M.T. LooniesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
About 10 years ago, Theron Denson was working at a hotel in West Virginia. He was informed by human resources that he had to stop singing to the guests.
“My first thought was to say, ‘Oh, that’s fine.’ Because I figured it was just a matter of time before some guest complained about my constant serenades,” Denson said. “And they said, ‘No, no, no, actually it’s not the guests that are complaining. They love it. It’s your co-workers.’”
Instead of bowing to the pressure, Denson decided to give his two weeks notice.
“They said, ‘We figured you might say that, so here’s your final check, and you don’t have to bother coming back tomorrow.’ I walked out of that hotel, and I suddenly realized that I have no income, no insurance, no medical, no dental, no check coming in each week,” he said. “So, I looked up at heaven and I said, ‘God, it looks like it’s you, Neil Diamond and me.’”
Wait. Neil Diamond? Oh, yes. On the day Denson walked out of that hotel in 2000, the “Black Diamond” was born.
Denson holds the unique distinction of being the only African-American Neil Diamond tribute act in America. In this unusual guise, he has toured the country, opened for major entertainers and even performed a nightly show in Las Vegas. On July 15, “The Black Diamond Experience” will make its debut at M.T. Loonies in Temperance.
Denson said he never had any desire to be an entertainer growing up. The son of a career military man, Denson and his family naturally moved around a lot. He was the middle of five kids, and “all of them probably sing better than me,” Denson said with a chuckle.
He also had no idea who Neil Diamond was. The soundtrack of his childhood was provided by acts like the Four Tops and Donna Summer. So the exploits of the famous sequin-clad crooner were far off his radar.
“I ended up going to a predominantly Caucasian church, where the members would hear me singing and they would turn around, kind of stunned, and say, ‘My goodness, young man. Anyone ever tell you that you sound like Neil Diamond?’ And I thought, ‘Who is Neil Diamond?’ I thought he went to my church,” Denson said.
The years of comparisons led to a budding admiration for the famous singer and after a few karaoke experiences, the seed of an idea was born — one which bloomed after his hotel career ended. For 10 years now, he has made a living as the one and only Black Diamond.
Denson is nothing if not hard working — a typical Black Diamond performance features a full set list of Diamond’s most popular songs, numerous costume changes, audience participation and more. The goal, he insists, is always for the audience to simply have fun — even if, at first, they don’t know what to make of him.
“If they haven’t seen the show before, the initial response is to just cock their head over to one side and squint their eyes incredulously. And that’s usually for the first five minutes,” Denson said, laughing. “But after that, it tends to be well and warmly received.”
His ability to win over his somewhat puzzled audiences has led to some remarkable opportunities for Denson in his career, from performing for Sen. John Kerry to opening for acts like Boyz II Men, Taylor Dayne and “professional mentors and personal friends” the Pointer Sisters, to an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2003.
“I got to meet some really cool people in the deal,” Denson said, mentioning Macy Gray and Pat O’Brien, among others. “And then, after the show, [Kimmel] took me bowling!”
But the highest compliment of all came from King Errisson, a percussionist who has played conga drums with the real Neil Diamond since 1976.
“He took me to dinner in Las Vegas and has basically expressed interest in sitting in on a Black Diamond show! Can you imagine what that would be like, for me to have Neil Diamond’s own percussionist sitting in at a Black Diamond show?”
Perhaps that would bring Denson even closer to one of his biggest dreams — a performance with Diamond himself. He speaks with awe-filled reverence at the mention of such an idea. “Here’s a man whose name I have heard most every day of my life since I was 11 years old. And little did I know that his name, and his music and his career would have such an effect on my life, personally and professionally.”