Entertainer Lonnie McFadden doesn’t believe he’d be performing today without the influence of his father, dancer and musician Jimmy McFadden. He recalls his father and his friends telling stories while he was growing up about their experiences performing. Lonnie was hooked, even though the stories detailed struggle more often than glamour.
“I don’t know if my father was just such a great storyteller or my imagination was just so vivid, but I immediately wanted to do that,” he says. “When they would start talking about, you know, getting stranded in Detroit or Chicago living off peanuts and Pepsi Cola until the next week’s gig, that sounded like, ‘Oh my god, I want to do that.’ [laughs]”
Lonnie, and later his brother Ronald, began piano lessons when they were 5 years old. Their father also found opportunities to teach them beyond formal lessons.
“Even at church he would be teaching us about the way music is constructed,” he says. “We would be listening to the choir, and he’d say, ‘Now tell me where the break is.’”
His father bought them tap shoes to practice with, and practicing was something that Lonnie hated.
“That’s something that, you know, it’s just like your parents making you eat spinach instead of eating candy all day,” he says. “It has been one of the most nourishing things for me in my life because now that I’m an adult and I am self-employed and have been since I was 16... Had I not learned that discipline from my father and mother, making me practice every day, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now.”
He now spends a minimum of 3 hours a day, 7 days a week at his rehearsal studio completing trumpet warmup exercises, answering emails and practicing basic tap dance techniques. McFadden also studies other tap dancers and musicians. Because the internet is vast, he finds it important to see what else is out there.
While he enjoys trying new styles, he does not experiment with them with an intention of mastering them.
“I’ve learned to accept what my gifts are,” he says. “I try to play trumpet as good as I can. I try to tap dance as good as I can. But as I said, I don’t think my gift is to become the greatest at anything. My gift is to bring joy.”
About 15 years ago, before committing to play music full-time, he held a more traditional job selling cars. Here, he discovered his motivation to continue working in music.
“I tried that for a while, and I was miserable,” he says. “So, one day I just went in there, and I quit cold turkey. I went back to trying to play music, not knowing if I would be able to pay my rent, but I knew I’d be happy. And I think that’s my biggest motivation every day.”
He describes his performances as “musically all over the place,” with music from artists like Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Ultimately, he wants the audience to enjoy themselves.
“From the first song, I try to feel the crowd out to see who I’m dealing with. Is this mostly business people? I try to find the common denominator,” he says. “The one thing that is my goal is for us to have a good time. Whether I’m at a business function or at the Kauffman Center or at the Phoenix it doesn’t matter—from the time I hit the stage or the band stand, my goal is to help facilitate a fun evening.”