- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Though she’s been singing professionally since she was 19, Tonya Boyd-Cannon says she got most of her early music training playing saxophone in school bands.

Now a class of 8- to 12-year-olds will be able to learn everything from vocal techniques to a bit about the music business in weekly two-hour sessions with Boyd-Cannon , a soul singer who has a degree in classical vocal performance and was among the top 20 in the 2015 season of NBC’s “The Voice.”

Even in New Orleans, kids who play instruments get more chances to learn than those who sing, Boyd-Cannon said.

“The vocal instrument is often forgotten about,” she said.

The two-hour classes will run each Thursday from March 9 through May 11.

And there’s a lot more to learn than notes and phrasing. Music also involves physical and business work, Boyd-Cannon said.

“The vocal cords are the only instrument you cannot take out and put in a case. … So we have to care for it as if it’s the priceless instrument that it is,” she said.

That could mean giving up a performance because you’re hoarse, she noted. And, to help kids avoid money troubles that could make that decision a crisis, she plans to teach a bit about the business side of show biz.

Boyd-Cannon considers herself a soul singer, though her 2016 album “Muzik is Life” includes contemporary rhythm and blues, rap, pop, jazz and gospel.

For her first professional gig, she put together and sang with a group that created its own background vocals for New Orleans native Jean Knight’s 1999 album “Queen.”

“It was truly a blessed experience,” she said.

Boyd-Cannon was born in Mississippi, a preacher’s daughter. The family moved to New Orleans when she was 8, and at age 13 - the same year she began leading her church’s youth choir - she was accepted at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. However, she said, she left because a teacher told her, “You have a beautiful voice but you can never make it here because you sing gospel. We sing classical.”

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home in 2005, Boyd-Cannon returned to Mississippi and won a Tougaloo College scholarship created for hurricane evacuees.

“A Tougaloo professor had kind of the same attitude - ‘you have a beautiful voice but if you don’t learn classical and don’t change, you won’t make it.’ I challenged myself to pursue this degree and prove to her and myself that I could learn this music and sing this music,” she said.

The New Orleans workshops will be free, but students must audition for them.

Boyd-Cannon says there’s space for about 30 students, and she hopes hundreds apply.

“I would love to just see the talent in New Orleans. Because there’s so much,” she said. She said she’d like eventually to create a citywide children’s chorus.

She’ll listen to each child sing 30 to 60 seconds of a song - any song - prepared ahead of time, then winnow down the remaining students by talking with them.

The workshops are sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation and the New Orleans Recreation Department .

But they’re not just for New Orleans residents, said foundation spokesman Scott Aiges. “It’s open to anyone as long as they’re between the ages of 8 and 12 and they pass the audition and they can get there,” ready to work, by 4:30 p.m. each Thursday.

Auditions will be held at 4:30 p.m. March 2. There’s an online registration form .

“The overall message I want to get across to the kids is to know that music is life, life is love and they are golden,” Boyd-Cannon said.

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