“Let’s not make this a story about me. Let’s make this a story from me to those who’ve lost direction, and are trying to find their way back home.” – Donald Braswell
Imagine if, in the prime of their career, Derek Jeter lost the ability to hit, Thomas Kinkade the ability to paint or Robert De Niro the ability to act.
Sure, our world would still turn, but the joy many feel witnessing a God-given talent would surely be affected by the loss of any of the above.
In 1995, Donald Braswell was a young, professional tenor and a seasoned veteran of the opera world. He was well on his way to becoming the next Luciano Pavarotti or Franco Corelli, and as his star shot toward international fame and domestic fortune, he and “The Met” were often mentioned together.
Then one day, as he surfed a well-managed wave of reviews and performances that had him on course to play Carnegie Hall, he lost his voice following a 10-million-to-one bicycle accident while on tour in Wales.
Yes, a bicycle.
A Texas native, Donald graduated on a full scholarship to Juilliard in 1990. The hit-and-run accident that stole his voice, career and sent his life into a years-long tailspin has never been solved, and the story of how Donald went from staggering from a cold, Welsh road to jogging under the hot lights of America’s Got Talent in 2008 (he placed fourth overall) is so inspirational that it still blows me away – and I know the backstory.
During his first AGT performance, the crowd booed him before he sang a note, but by the time Donald finished Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up, the shouts of “Vegas! Vegas!” rang throughout the packed theater as if he’d won the whole thing.
Flushed by success, Donald was, however, eliminated in the next round (ouch), but the man who married his high-school sweetheart and is now a father to three girls, made a dramatic return when NBC held an impromptu wild card round following an injury to another finalist. (As one of eight returning performers, millions voted the then-45-year-old back on AGT.)
Piers Morgan even went as far as saying Donald was “The Rocky Balboa of our show; you were knocked out, you came back and you could win the title. You could.” Though the fairytale ended when he placed fourth overall, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber complimented Donald by saying he “was looking forward to working with” him.
During the thirteen years he was out in the cold, the former professional singer worked as a plasterer, sold insurance, swimming pools, as well as new and used cars – anything to help feed his family.
After relearning how to first talk, and then sing, Donald was working at a car dealership when a chance meeting with a homeless-looking man ended months later with the release of New Chapter, his first CD in 2007. Since then, he’s released two more CD’s, including Unchained, which came out in November.
I first met Donald while interviewing him numerous times for several features in a daily Texas newspaper. I was so intrigued by his story that we chatted for forty-five minutes post-interview. Later, we agreed to work on his memoir, and here we are today.
Donald continues to pay it forward by headlining numerous annual charity events, and three years post-AGT, he inspires thousands via his website, and the member-driven international fan club that sprung to life soon after AGT.
Known as “Braswellians” fans represent thirty-six countries, all fifty U.S. states and each Canadian province. (One teenage Iranian, who recently watched the show in syndication, produced a YouTube montage to Braswell’s original song, We Are The Same You And I.)
Since AGT, Donald has performed on many occasions with the San Antonio Symphony, sings solo events, and is part of a three-tenor group called Gli Unici (“The Only Ones.”)
What I admire so much about this humble, Christian man is that he knows he’s been blessed with a second shot to do what he was meant to do, (and I have to admit, I love the never-quit attitude that kept him going all those many years.)
(I guarantee my laptop would be chucked off a tall building if I ever lost the ability to write.)
Speaking of ability, earlier this week, Donald took another bite of the Big Apple when he made it back to Carnegie Hall during a Christmas concert appearance with famous composer, Tim Janis.
Dreams do come true - some easier than others. Donald’s dream to appear at Carnegie has come true.
Mine is to have his inspirational story published, and then see someone pulling out a dog-eared copy of the book as they contentedly settle in for the usual long bus ride home.
How has Donald's story affected you?
How has Donald's story affected you?