America has its FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) replete with her own mission and goals, but Baltimore has its FLOS (First lady of sax) in the person of Corinthia Cromwell. She has a multitude of talents. She is a musician, vocalist, writer, and producer. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University in music therapy and a Master’s degree from NYU in Administration. Although her degree is in music therapy, she works in the health care field with the elderly and children. In addition, she has also worked with adult psychiatric patients.
Cromwell has recently gotten into film production, but has been featured in four movies as well. She has done spots in Malcolm X, Boomerang and Head of State. She was also in a local film entitled It Has Begun, a documentary on the existence of God.
She has performed in various states. She was in New York at The Schomberg, The Blue Note, and Bradley’s Jazz Club. In Baltimore, she performed at The Lyric Opera House, Chef Mac’s, and Center Stage. She also performed at Michael W. Smith at Rocketown, one of the premier performance halls in Nashville.
Cromwell got her musical start in middle school, with her first musical instrument, the violin. When she got to high school, she started playing clarinet and saxophone. Cromwell has played the sax since the early 80’s. She states. “If it had not been for the arts in my middle school, I don’t know where I would be. I was at Martin Luther King and we did musicals and plays.”
Cromwell’s life has consistently and constantly involved the arts. She said she remembered performing shows in her parents’ basement. They would sell tickets and have people in the neighborhood come to see the shows. She said she, along with her sisters and brother, would do dance shows, which included curtains, a stage area, and seating. Cromwell reminisced about one of the songs they did, The Theme from Shaft, in which her brother played the title role.
Another show involved Barbie doll fashions. Yet another one was a doggie birthday bash and all of her friends brought over their dogs. Her mom even made a birthday cake from wet and dry dog food.
Cromwell said her mom would help them bring the shows to fruition. There was always some new type of artistic endeavor.
Cromwell credits her parents as being major influences in her life. Her mom was a clarinet player in high school and her dad sang in the church choir. He was a high tenor singer when he was younger. In addition Cromwell’s mom played in the marching band and her dad was on the football team. She said they planted the seed in her to be the musician she has become. Cromwell feels she is in her purpose now.
Another influence in her life was her music teacher, Ron Kearns, who not only introduced her to the saxophone, but also inspired and encouraged her to get better on the instrument, He allowed her to take the saxophone home over a Christmas holiday. She came back and auditioned for the jazz band and won first chair in the high school jazz band.
Wynton Marsalis became a mentor to Cromwell when he came to Howard Univeristy and heard her playing the baritone saxophone. He told her when she graduated to come to NY and look him up. Cromwell moved to New York. She said Marsalis would introduce her to other jazz artists and send her to clubs to play. She said, “He even vouched for me when I did my first tour: Beauty and the Beat: Women in Jazz. We would go to colleges and perform.”
Well known jazz saxophonist, Kirk Whalum, was also an influence. Cromwell said the first time she heard him play, she was absolutely blessed by his performance.
As a young child, Cromwell did not really see any obstacles, but as an adult, she now can see how, being a woman and being able to perform in the way she does, sometimes results in jealousy from the men.
“Now,” she says, “people judge you on what you look like. Before people hear me play, they see an attractive woman and once they hear me play, they are amazed at how well I play.”
When asked about the future, Cromwell says, “I see myself definitely continuing in this profession, but also transitioning in the music industry. Music has the ability to inform the nation. I think the music we have now is destroying the nation. I see myself having my own music company and working with artists who are honing their craft. Being a musician is as important as a doctor. A doctor has to make sure every cut is precise. If you misuse the gift that you have, the talent that you have, you can really take out a nation. The influence of the music that young people have today is causing people to mistreat each other.”
She continues, “I would like to be remembered as a servant of God whose music changed the atmosphere. I know that to be my call. I was selected by God to be his servant. I am called to play and change the atmosphere of whatever place I enter. A lot of people can be healed physically and emotionally.”
For the next generation of musicians, Cromwell recommends that they invest their time in understanding all of music and not just taking the easy way out. She says, “To learn the craft, I know that God has a desire for us to be skillful in all that we do. David was skillful in his performance and his heart was right with God, he was able to play and demons would flee. Saul was a king who had an evil spirit put on him by God. Saul called for a musician, David played and God’s heart was moved so that the atmosphere was changed and the evil spirit was lifted.”
Cromwell received a special honor. There was a writer who wrote a book called Views on Black American Music: Such Sweet Thunder. She is listed in the chapter on Great Women of Jazz with other jazz notables such as Betty Carter, and Terri Lynn Carrington. She has played with Regina Carter and won numerous awards, including one from the White House.
She said, she left her full time job in 2011 and now devotes her time to the purpose that God has for her.
Cromwell has the following upcoming performances:
April 12th in Virginia Beach, VA at The Foundry,
April 20th at Baltimore’s The Forum;
May 4th in Aberdeen, MD for a women’s conference
May 5th at Grace Memorial on Eden Street in Baltimore, and
May 11th at Baltimore’s Martin’s West for a Pre-Mother’s Day celebration
In addition, she is working out a 50 college tour, but is continuing her work as a musician at her church, Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries on Radecke Avenue in Baltimore.
Cromwell has a CD forthcoming entitled: Straight to Smooth, which will feature a combination of traditional and contemporary gospel, original as well as straight ahead and smooth jazz selections.
This first lady of sax can be reached via Facebook.