You could call them angels, those who have saved John Redmon’s life in one way or another.
There’s his mother, Cynthia, who noticed her 3-year-old throw down his toys when a song came on the TV to pretend-play the keys along to the beat. Cynthia, a pianist herself, began to pass on the gift a couple years later. Redmon remembers sitting next to her on a church piano bench while his little fingers hit one note at a time to form the melody of “Jesus Loves Me.”
There’s the man who called 16 years ago about Redmon coming to sing at a Baptist church in Colorado Springs. Redmon left his life in Atlanta behind for the gig and has never looked back.
And there’s Louis Armstrong, whose voice Redmon relies on to make money as an impersonator.
But, personally, Redmon tends to reserve the word “angel” for a woman by the name of Marjorie. She worked at the library in Oakland, Calif., with Redmon’s mother and could tell one morning when her friend wasn’t her usual joyful self. It was weighing on Cynthia, a single mother of three, that she wouldn’t be able to afford sending her children to a Christian school like she so desperately wanted.
His mother was barely making it on welfare. “We grew up in the ghetto,” Redmon says. “We were so poor we couldn’t afford the ‘r’ on the end.” Marjorie offered to pay for the first month of the oldest kid’s schooling. Each month, Marjorie kept offering until she had paid for all 12 years. Plus 11 years of school for Redmon and his twin sister. It would’ve been more, but Marjorie died when they were juniors.
“This is how good God is,” Redmon says before telling the rest of the story.
Marjorie’s will asked her brother to allocate some funds to keep paying their school fees.
“That was our miracle story,” Redmon said. “We called her our family angel.”
Without that school, Redmon’s not sure his life would’ve gone like this.
As a shy kid, he didn’t make many friends. He was embarrassed when his sister was picked before him for recess games. Redmon turned to the piano.
“I was such a loner,” he said. “It was me and music. Music became my best friend, my escape. It became my love.”
The love blossomed. And got noticed.
When he was 12, Redmon won a songwriting competition for a tune called “Abide in Him.” When Redmon sang a solo at his church, even the bullies gave him a high five.
“Before that, the only name I had was Esther’s brother, Mary’s son, Cynthia’s son,” Redmon said. “All the sudden people were saying my name.”
His strong faith inspired the songs he wrote and the songs he chose to sing. At 18, he started his own record company called Reaching Records with the purpose to “reach and touch hearts around the world.”
But Redmon didn’t go all in with music. Worried by the “starving” part in front of “starving artist,” he instead studied computer information systems in college and worked for years in the insurance business while putting out records when he had time.
Then, in 2015, he lost his job.
Like he has so many other times, he turned to God. “What do I do know?” Redmon asked.
He heard an answer. “Music.”
He was still scared and unsure where to start. But maybe it was time to make music more than a hobby.
During his first time there, Redmon sang and played some songs as background to the chatty restaurant crowd. He decided to try something.
For his next song, Redmon lowered and rasped his voice before letting out the words, “I see trees of green. Red roses too.”
The room fell silent, Redmon says.
“You could hear a pin drop,” he said. “While I’m singing, I see tears, I see smiles. By the time I got through with the song, there was a round of applause.”
Something clicked. Since then, Redmon has been hired for all kinds of Louis Armstrong gigs, from singing telegrams to singing at a funeral in New Mexico. He balances that with serving as a youth pastor at his church and singing there every weekend.
“Louis Armstrong has opened so many doors for me,” he said. “Louis saved me.”
There’s the next door: Redmon, who is 45, is working on a Louis Armstrong tribute album due out in January. The album is made up of songs made famous by Armstrong as well as songs he might’ve recorded if he was alive today.
One of those is John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
When Redmon first heard the song’s opening lyrics, “Imagine there’s no heaven,” he turned off the radio.
“As a Christian, I was against that song,” Redmon said.
Thomas Dawson, who is the music director for the legendary Commodores and is working on the album with Redmon, suggested they record it anyway.
He listened to the message of the song with recent events in mind.
“We have all these barriers, between black and white, Democrats and Republicans, mask wearers and non mask wearers,” Redmon said. “All we have to do is accept each other for who we are.”
The album also includes a cover of the Christian hymn “Blessed Assurance.”
“We got to have a song like that on there,” Redmon says with a laugh. “There’s no way I’m going to leave God out of any of my albums.”