ENVISION – in the groove, and on the move!
By Eddie Collins
What are the secret ingredients that make up a crowd pleasing act with class? Quite simply, you take seven sensational musicians and five powerhouse vocalists, apply the right music mix , season generously with personality, add a large dash of presentation, place on a generous stage, then serve pipin’ hot to an eager audience for a few hours, and voila… you’ve got ENVISION!
Based out of Winston-Salem NC, the group was formed in 1997, by vocalist Michael Thomas who had a special vision, “ I wanted a vocal group like The Temptations, O’Jays, with a band behind them, and feature harmonies, choreography, just a show, something different at the time and special,” said Thomas. Rounding out the current lineup, are vocalists- Iris Daye, Charlene Legette, Michelle Scales, Sylvania Wilder. The driving rhythm section consists of bassist / musical director Leroy Roberson, keyboardist / arranger Vincent Crenshaw, guitarist Herb Stevens, and drummer Michael Parrish. Complementing the act, are the powerhouse horns of C.Michael Hinson- trombone, James Armstrong – trumpet, and Chris Evernham- saxophone.
Reflecting on my initial encounter with the act, in 2015 I was informed by friend Dan Wolfe, (former regular bassist of Blackwater Rhythm & Blues Band) that Envision was a ‘must see’ group performing at Duck’s in North Myrtle Beach. Upon entering the club, I heard “The Groove Line” by Heatwave, echoing the room. Being a fave tune of mine, I assumed it was the club DJ playing the original song. As I stepped into the club a bit farther, much to my amazement, I observed it was in fact Envision performing the song live on stage, of which I was astounded that what filled my ears, was an uncanilly letter perfect rendition.
“We’re of that formula, that preparation meets opportunity, that’s going to equal success. We believe in rehearsal 2-3 times a week, making the time for the presentation to stand out, and in putting our own spin on things.” says Thomas, regarding Envision’s key to performance, devoting much time to rehearsing the ensemble, within a quite rigorous performance schedule.
The act’s dynamic stage presence, is best described as being reminiscent of a throwback to the classy 1960’s Motown ‘Motortown Revue,’ combined with the precision and high energy of a ‘Stax / Volt Revue.’ And to watch Envision, it is like a freight train moving at full throttle. I was so extremely impressed by what I initially saw, immediately striking up a rapport and friendship with these gals and guys. More so, I was taken by their genuine down home personalities, which evokes a direct reflection on their band unity, and in working together as a family. When it comes to that teamwork Thomas states, “The difficulties, problems, and pitfalls, that most bands go thru, we’ve kind of avoided that, you have to work well with people, effectively know your unit, satisfy the needs of the client, your crowd, and to be able to do all that.”
Musically, the setlist of Envision is quite diverse, with standouts such as Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” to pure 70’s dance with Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady,” onto Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,” Performed by Iris Daye, she takes this song to great heights, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation. Envision’s playlist is likened to a well-stocked jukebox, performing the hits of yesterday and today. According to Thomas, “We play a wide range of musical styles, and are adept in reaching the masses; most of our appearances have different types of people, so we try to have something for everyone.”
In returning for SOS fall migration activities in 2016, I reconnected with Envision once again at Duck’s. After my wife Debbie and I received a warm welcome, I was very humbled when vocalist Michael Thomas invited me on stage, to sing lead vocal on Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.” As Michael, Iris, Charlene, Sylvania & Michelle provided the backing of harmonies so sweet, I felt like I was in a church revival, looking out at the audience, who soon became the congregation, as Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions would surely have shouted… “Amen!”
Over the past twenty years, Envision has built a wide demand, with performances throughout the Carolinas and surrounding states, ranging from club dates, to weddings, corporate functions, etc., and largely in part, due to their versatility and flexibility as performers. In reflection Thomas says, “Our highlights have been opening for comedian / TV host Steve Harvey, and being selected for Jordin Sparks (of American Idol fame), those were great opportunities, but it’s exciting playing for audiences that show their appreciation for the songs, nostalgia, and we’re really proud that the people receive us with open arms.”
Looking ahead, as Envision gears up for a full roster of shows booked into 2018, they also recently celebrated a major coup for the act, their initial CD, “Soul Reloaded” was just released in August. “We gig so much, that we just haven’t had time to write, put ideas down and record, working so much, but earlier this year we made time in our lives that this is just what we needed to do” says Thomas. The release features some crowd pleasing staples the group is known for, along with brand new original tunes written by Vincent Crenshaw, to excite the beach music community, so let’s all get ready for more… Envision!
For additional info on the act, visit www.envisionNC.com, YouTube, and follow on Facebook.
Eddie Collins-Groovetime Productions, is a Pennsylvania based entertainer, radio personality, promoter, music historian and journalist. www.eddiecollinsmusic.com