by Linda Burlingame
Ayo is at the beautiful Andy Williams Performing Arts Center in Branson. Many famous artists have graced this stage, from Andy to Glen Campbell, the Lennon Sisters, the Osmonds, to name a few. Voices of Glory Michael, Avery, and Nadia Cole tell audiences they are honored to be on the “Moon River” stage. I’ve been enjoying Branson’s incredible entertainment and interviewing talented artists here since 1990. These young people are as talented as any I have seen on a Branson stage. The story of how they got here is poignant. But first — the show!
These three are lively, full of energy, always on the move. When Nadia opens with Proud Mary, the audience is immediately engaged — it’s going to be a great show! Nadia’s brothers are her “backup singers” for this one, complete with 60’s moves. When they all sing Everything Is Alright, the harmonies are not just “alright,” they’re perfect. Around Branson when I’m with other entertainers and mention Ayo, the response is quick, “Aren’t they amazing?!”
In 2009 Ayo was in the Top 5 on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. That was four years after their mother was traumatically injured in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. Felicia Cole was in a coma for eight months. Her three children were by her bedside every day, singing to her. Their music was such a healing gift they started singing in other places, to inspire and restore. Those appearances turned into shows, and “the rest is history.” It was 2012 when Andy Williams invited them to be in his legendary Christmas show. Their Branson story had begun.
Nadia has a truly extraordinary voice. (I’m looking up synonyms for amazing, astonishing, marvelous….) Her rendition of I Will Always Love You is the best I’ve heard, at once entrancing and exhilarating. Those high notes are deep, long and drawn out. Michael has a big voice, too; he sang Carpenters’ Superstar — “Long ago and oh so far away, I fell in love with you, before the second show” — love that song! Avery has such a fine voice and also some fine guitar work! Exceptional voices, unbeatable family harmonies … these three are excellent entertainers.
Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing; a cappella rendition of Holy, Holy, Holy; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Michael Jackson’s Shake Your Body; Wichita Lineman … good song list. Fly Me to the Moon, My Funny Valentine — they fell in love with songs of that era when they were the opening act (singing Gospel music) at an upstate New York club. The five-piece band is outstanding on all the styles of music. You’ll love Bill’s wailing saxophone, and Ray’s trumpet version of America the Beautiful is, well, beautiful. I’ve known drummer Robbie Blackwood and guitarist Michael Hermsmeyer for years; these five are some of the best musicians anywhere.
We still call them kids, but Michael is 25, Avery 22, and Nadia 18. Today Felicia, who was a bilingual biology teacher, is still recovering. In conversation she told me the kids get their vocal excellence from her, “My mama’s side of the family,” she said with a big smile. She and husband Mike Cole greet people after the show, while their “kids” sign autographs and pose for photos.
Their music is still inspiring. Michael has said, “We have been given a unique opportunity to deliver a message of hope through our music, and it is a challenge that we do not take lightly.” They’ve published their autobiography, Higher Than Me, and have recently completed a screenplay. Their story isn’t over. In some ways it’s just begun.
They have performances at the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center through October and are part of the Andy Williams Christmas Show, with The Lennon Sisters, The Osmonds, and other great entertainers November 1 — December 15, 2018.
Don’t forget, you can see all of the wonderful shows that Branson has to offer, just by clicking – HERE!