When he’s not promoting the city’s key assets to business prospects, Danville Economic Development Director Telly Tucker likes to hit a different set of keys.
Tucker, 39, has played piano since he was 8 years old and later this month will lead two musical productions in Washington, D.C., during the 2019 DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival taking place June 21 through July 5.
On June 22, he will be music director of the shows “Just a Little Bit of Ray,” at 5 p.m., and “A Musical Journey,” at 7 p.m. at THEARC Blackbox Theater on Mississippi Avenue Southeast.
The first will focus on musician Ray Charles and the next will cover such musical greats as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Nancy Wilson, James Brown, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone and Prince.
For Tucker, who said he is honored and excited to be participating in the 15-day festival, playing music provides an outlet for stress.
“It’s therapeutic,” Tucker said Thursday morning. “It’s a release.”
Piano playing gives Tucker the same feeling others may get from their favorite activities.
“It’s a natural high,” he said. “Some people get it from running or from taking walks in nature.”
Tucker has performed throughout the years in France, Switzerland, Sweden, the Caribbean and the United States.
One highlight was playing piano and singing for Bill and Hillary Clinton at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts while a student at Morgan State University in Baltimore in the late 90s.
Tucker can play any genre of music, said Jennifer Petticolas, director and playwright for the two shows in Washington.
“He’s a really talented young man,” said Petticolas, head of JLP Productions, a theater production company in Lynchburg. “Telly can do it all. He is the most versatile musician that I have come across.”
Petticolas serves on the committee for the festival. She researched the artists for the two shows and will write up their narration.
She has known Tucker and his family for “a long time. I can’t even tell you how many years,” she said, adding she knew his father.
Tucker and Petticolas have performed “Just a Little Bit of Ray” and “A Musical Journey” together before.
Tucker learned to play piano from instructor Rose Peak from the time he was 8 until he was 18.
He started out studying music at Morgan State University in Maryland but transferred to James Madison University to study international business, which led him into economic development. He has been Danville’s director of economic development since 2014.
As much as Tucker loved music, he didn’t want it to become work, he said.
He performs publicly less often than he used to, playing about once or twice per month. He lends his talents every other weekend at Lynchburg Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Locally, he performed for the Wednesday Club in March 2017.
Music, for him, is a way to bring people together, and it offers him opportunities to interact with those from different walks of life.
Linwood Wright, a consultant with the city of Danville, once watched Tucker perform for the Wednesday Club.
He played everything from Beethoven’s “Pathetique Sonata” to New Orleans jazz to gospel, recalled Wright, who also plays piano.
“That was a fantastic afternoon,” Wright said during an interview at his office Thursday afternoon.
Calling him “an excellent pianist,” he praised Tucker’s improvisational skills and inventiveness.
“His piano virtuosity is remarkable,” said Wright, who also praised Tucker’s vocal talents. “He’s got a wonderful voice.”
Petticolas said she wished Tucker lived in Lynchburg because there are shows in which his skills and talents are needed.
“He can listen to the music and play it, he can read the notes, he can also play by ear,” Petticolas said. “He is just a fantastic musician, and he sings.”
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.