A Twist Of Fate

Stacey Kent was pursuing a career in comparative literature when fate intervened. On vacation in London, she went to a singing audition on a lark. The audition won her a scholarship, and the rest is musical history. CBS News Correspondent Vicki Mabrey has her remarkable story for CBS News Sunday Morning.

Wanderlust took Stacey Kent from New York to London. A twist of fate and a love of storytelling changed this 30-year-old from an academic to one of Britain's newest vocal sensations.

"I have no idea why this clicked, and to look back on the whole thing now, I think the whole thing looked so destined to be," says Stacey.

Words captivate her. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in literature.

"Literature was all I did," she recalls. "I went to the library and I studied and that's what I thought my career was going to be."

But while working on her master's degree seven years ago, she took a vacation in England.

"I saw this advertisement for this auditioning going on at the Guild Hall School of Music," Stacey shares. "I have no idea what compelled me to go and do that because I was a comp. lit. student; music was something that we did for fun. I thought, I'll just do it on a whim, go audition, see if I can get in."

She was a complete novice standing on the stage of a prestigious music academy, singing songs that were her favorites; songs from the pages of the great American songbook.

"I was pretty shocked that I got in," Stacey remembers. "But when I was auditioning, I remember them being sort of surprised that I could do some of the things that I could do with my ear, I guess, having asked me my background."

Professor Scott Stroman auditioned Stacey, and later taught her during her year at the Guild Hall. "Though not being terrifically developed as an improvising musician, [Stacey] had great potential," he recalls. "That's what we were looking for in terms of their ears, in other words, their aural thing... They can hear things. They may not know how to put all that material into use right away, but they've got the ability to actually hear it and work with it. [Stacey] had a really nice, attractive voice; she had an outgoing personality; she could put the song across and communicate the words."

Her developing voice propelled her to the front of a London-based big band, and to a part in the movie Richard III.

"It started to get serious and I started to get job offers that I had no idea I was going to get," Stacey says. "Had it been a little harder, I don't know if I would have tried so hard. I certainly got hungry for it, but I got hungry for it because it was there and it was going well, and it was just so exciting, and I was up there singing."

She married Jim Tomlinson, a saxophonist and singer whom she met at the Guild Hall, and tey formed a smaller band.

Inevitably, Stacey cut a demo tape. For many hopefuls, that's as far as it goes. The demo never reaches anyone in power. But Stacey's incredible run of good fortune continued. She got her tape into the hands of one key person: British jazz announcer Humphrey Lyttelton. Lyttelton brought her music to the attention of half a million British jazz lovers.

Lyttleton recalls: "I idly slipped a tape from her into my car cassette player and haven't taken it out to this day. Quite honestly, when I got the demo tape, I thought, 'oh, here's another one'."

It was the equivalent of being discovered in Schwab's drugstore in the Hollywood of the 1940s.

"There's something I like to refer to as the in-built smile in her voice, and also a thing which is unique to her...this completely original style without being a far-out style. I mean, she sings a song."

Lyttleton enthusiastically wrote the liner notes for Stacey's first album, Close Your Eyes.

Touring with the release of Close Your Eyes brought Stacey home to New York for a performance at the club Birdland and a reunion with her family.

The songs she sings are older than she is. This music from another generation moves her like nothing else.

"The stories are universal," she says. "They're love songs. People have been falling in and out of love since the beginning of time. But it's the way in which they're told that's so magical. For whatever reason, I don't know, but the early 20th century in America was a very special time and everybody caught on to this and they were writing great songs."

If her first album was about yearning, her second release, The Tender Trap is about being swept away. It's full of the songs she loves to discover, dust off and retell.

"I guess I've kind of come full circle, in that I studied literature because I love a story," says Stacey. "And now I've grown up and I'm a storyteller. I just happen to do it with a song."

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