Coco Rouzier has entertained thousands of people around the world with her gift of song.
She has sung jazz and soul tunes in some of the world’s largest, most exciting cities. The professional singer has met people from all walks of life and, as a child, even grabbed the attention of Rosa Parks.
But what Rouzier wants most right now is to settle in the Twin Counties and cultivate the musical talent of youngsters who might not otherwise be discovered.
She wants to use the opportunities that opened the doors to her career, to open those doors for others – right here at home.
Based on a need for a more peaceful, slow-paced life, Rouzier embarked on a personal journey and landed last June in the Tarboro/Princeville area, where her ancestors were raised.
Compared to the glaring stage lights and loud, bustling cities that became the backdrops for her professional singing career, North Carolina’s country roads provided a long-needed respite and fresh air to clear her lungs and her mind.
“I dreamed of a place that reminded me of France,” she says, “where I could take a long, quiet drive. It’s a peaceful, zen-like thing. Here, community and church create this family feeling. To come back after so much time and feel rooted puts me in just a calm state.”
It also has made her realize that she’s a born performer, a label and career that she will never fully shed.
“I can’t retire,” she says. “Performing chose me.”
After recent performances at Edgecombe Community College and N.C. Wesleyan College’s Dunn Center for the Performing Arts, she is setting down musical roots as well in the Twin Counties – ones she hopes to pass on to others.
From the start, Rouzier was a natural in front of an audience. Born in Washington, D.C., she had high hopes for her future and pursued many activities through which she could experiment with her voice.
Her mother, Bessie Cross, once a soprano in her church choir, exposed her daughter to music as much as possible, taking her to concerts and shows.
“I always made sure she saw movies with singing in them,” Cross says. “She loved Shirley Temple.”
During junior high school, her choir director influenced her to become active in musicals and to hone her stage presence. She soon became a natural public speaker, competing in pageants and oratorical essay contests.
She turned the heads of the National Black Caucus, 100 Black Mayors and the NAACP’s dinner to honor Rosa Parks.
Parks was so impressed with Rouzier’s poise and speech that she requested the student’s presence at other engagements honoring Parks herself. On her way to stardom, Rouzier won Howard University’s amateur singing contest and landed a spot on “It’s Showtime at the Apollo” in New York, where she moved to pursue her career.
Her mother is not surprised her daughter has made a name for herself around the world.
“She was always determined,” Cross says. “I’m happy that she’s keeping up with it.”
Rouzier adopted a unique jazz sound with swinging soul undertones. Her voice became legendary, and she performed at New York high-society events and in high-visibility venues.
Her work, which she describes as a spiritual experience, held the influences of some of her favorite artists: Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
“I think back to my journey, to the people, the conversations, being in the middle of the stage with the lights on you, and you’re hoarse,” she says, “and then you open your mouth and something beautiful comes out. Then you know it’s something bigger than you.”
She used her talents to entertain audiences all over the world, in countries including Norway, France, Sweden, Iceland, at a seven-star hotel in Beijing, China.
Even with the happiness that came from doing what she loved and was meant to do, Rouzier is longing to travel less – traveling a few months a year to perform – and make a home.
“I felt like a traveling jukebox,” she says. “I want to plan a real life and a family.”
Now, she’s turning more toward recording music and compiling albums. Her live-recording CD, “From Brooklyn to Beijing” is on sale locally at Tape City.
During her travels, Rouzier kept a journal that included accounts of all the places she had been, how thankful she was to get to see the world and her realization that performing would always somehow be a part of her life.
That’s when her personal journey turned toward the South and the place where her ancestors’ history unfolded. “I wanted to find a way of giving my heart and soul through music,” she says. “I promised that I would take what I know and pass it on to young people who want to go out and perform.”
And that’s just what she plans to do.
Through work with the local Community Enrichment Organization, Rouzier noticed raw, unsung talent in youngsters whose futures might not hold many options to pursue their gifts.
A spark formed in her mind, and she wondered what she could do about it.
Rouzier, her mother says, has always been in tune with other people.
“She not only loves singing on the stage, but she gets along with everyone,” Cross says. “She talks to everyone, even at the grocery store. She’s just happy-go-lucky.”
That intuition into others’ hopes and dreams fueled Rouzier to create a talent showcase for young people between 8 and 16 years old to be held in the next few months.
She wants to work with young singers, poets, models and dancers who show emerging talent, coaching them and honing their skills.
“I want to help take them to the next level,” she says, “with a sort of performing finishing school. It’s a way to find that niche I want to offer. They’re already talented, and I want to help shape it and market it.”
Because of her ties to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Rouzier plans to take the winner to New York City to have the opportunity to perform in the same theater where she got her start. She hopes the showcase will spotlight the need for arts training in communities.
“There’s no music in people’s lives anymore,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to finding the top talent here.”
Once the details of the showcase are finalized, Rouzier will put out more information in the community and seek sponsors.
“That’s how she started,” Cross says. “She wants to give that back now, and I’m really proud of her.”