- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2001

Douglas Jimerson says the music of Stephen Foster brings out the best in him.

The classically trained tenor spent nearly all his life immersing himself in music, from piano lessons starting at age 7 to countless hours of opera-technique courses as an adult.

But an offhanded introduction to Foster's canon of Americana classics was what helped him find his performing niche.

Mr. Jimerson brings his impassioned, historically pure take on Foster's songs to "Civil War Live" at 2 p.m. March 11 at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

Along with Mr. Jimerson's rumbling tenor will be the Wildcat Regiment Band, Gilmore's Light Ensemble, the St. Peter's Parish Choir of Poolesville and soprano Jill Worley, all bringing the Civil War era's music alive for one local performance.

Richard K. Foster, grandnephew of the patriotic composer, will be the evening's special guest. All net proceeds from the concert will go to the Civil War Preservation Trust, a nonprofit that funnels resources toward battlefield preservation.

Mr. Jimerson promises an authentic spin on such classic songs as "Battle Cry of Freedom" in concert, without any modern flourishes that might drown out its pioneer spirit.

It helps that his voice is a snug fit for the job.

"There's something about the material that suits my voice," says Mr. Jimerson, who dons period attire to further flesh out the spectacle. "I have a deeper tenor voice than most."

"When I sing 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' it seems to bring out the best in my vocal range," he says.

Mr. Jimerson, a featured soloist with the Annapolis Opera, also has performed under the umbrella of the Washington Performing Arts Society, and he has graced the Kennedy Center's stage before.

His latest CD, "America," finds him singing along with the Navy Band and Sheryl Cohen, who was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, songs from Colonial through modern times. He'll soon release his eighth CD on his label, AmeriMusic, based in Potomac.

The Potomac resident's musical career began when, as a youngster, he performed his first piano solo concert in public from memory.

"I had a dream of being a concert pianist," he says. When he segued into singing during college, the response from college instructors suggested that it might be his stronger path.

He eventually landed an apprenticeship with baritone Todd Duncan, the original Porgy in George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess."

"He was my inspiration in voice. He stuck with me through technical difficulties … bad habits," he says of Mr. Duncan, who died two years ago.

When Mr. Jimerson began looking for ways to broaden his singing beyond operatic numbers, Mr. Duncan suggested he consider the classical American standards.

"I came across Stephen Foster songs. I hadn't heard them in 30 years," he says.

He first tackled Foster's compositions live at the Kennedy Center late in 1995. A few months later, he performed a similar set at Carnegie Hall to a warm reception.

"Then, I had my niche," he says simply.

The genre is one he has mostly to himself, he says, adding that he knows of only one other performer who regularly sings the Civil War-era tunes.

That doesn't mean he takes his audiences for granted.

His live performances typically feature historically accurate instruments — the Wildcat band's brass instruments are circa Civil War. Other featured instruments, from banjos to flutes, date to only a few years from that time period.

His music attracts a wide crowd, he says — young and old drawn to the classic melodies and unadorned patriotism. Yet one target audience that seems a natural fit for his music hasn't proved nearly as loyal.

"We don't get a big turnout from battlefield re-creators," he says.

Mr. Jimerson's personal research of the material often uncovers fascinating facts about music's role in our history. Robert E. Lee is reported to have said that he would not have had an army without music. President Lincoln was the only president to have an opera performed at his inaugural, Friedrich von Flotow's "Martha."

In 1951, President Truman made Jan. 13, the date of Foster's death, a holiday, the first such tribute for a musician, he says.

"I didn't realize how important [Foster] was to so many Americans," Mr. Jimerson says. "Quite a bit [of this music] was performed at the White House or Congress."

His work allowed him to befriend his favorite composer's descendants.

"It's been a joy to get to know the Foster family," he says.

But many music fans haven't heard the songs he sings, and too few students are learning about them in school.

"We'd like to encourage young people to perform and listen to the music," he says. "I'm doing all I can to keep this musical heritage of ours alive."

WHAT: "Civil War Live"WHERE: The Kennedy Center, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NWWHEN: 2 p.m. March 11TICKETS: $25PHONE: 202/467-4600

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