By Rych McCain International/nationally Syndicated Entertainment Columnist
Prince's Keyboard Stylist!
Photo Courtesy RMG
When it comes to having an eye for talent to fill out his band; platinum selling superstar Prince has always found the best qualified musicians to fit the bill. His current line up for his back up band “The New Power Generation” includes versatile keyboardist Cassandra O'Neal. The Copiague, New York native is also a composer, teacher and producer. O’Neal is a “PK” i.e., preacher’s kid and demonstrated her musical talent very early when she began playing piano at age 3. As she became old enough, she took classical piano lessons and started playing in the church. As with most gifted musicians, O’Neal began to explore many styles of music from new wave, rock, pop and r&b. While she was in high school, she honed her chops accompanying school choruses and ensembles. O’Neal soon relocated to Los Angeles and began touring with gospel great Daryl Coley which was her first break into showbiz.
Coming off of Coley’s tour, O'Neal then became a staff musician at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ under the leadership of Bishop Charles E. Blake. She later released a gospel instructional DVD entitled “Wheatworks Productions Presents…West Coast Piano: The Ultimate Gospel Piano Master Class Featuring Cassandra O'Neal.”
Because she was able to blend the feel of several styles of music i.e., jazz, pop and funk, it wasn’t long before O'Neal was in the studio and on the road backing up some of music’s biggest acts, including Pink and her Party Tour in 2002, 98 Degrees, Kurt Carr & the Kurt Carr Singers, Helen Baylor, Avant, Chanté Moore, and the 2005 Sisters In The Spirit Tour featuring acts such as Yolanda Adams, Sheila E. and Martha Munizzi. She was also named Musical Director for Macy Gray (2004–2007) and Mary J. Blige joining Jay-Z on the Heart of the City Tour in 2008.
O’Neal’s recording credits, movie soundtracks, TV show and award show appearances and performances are too numerous to name. She joined Prince’s NPG in 2009 and has been with the band since touring all over the world on several of his purpleness’ major tours. Prince is a hard person to get next to, so how did O’Neal hook up with him? She explains, “I hooked up with Prince through Sheila E. I was playing for her at the time and he was putting together a band to accompany him for the NAACP Image Awards. He was receiving the lifetime achievement award (2005) and Sheila asked if I would be in the band. That was probably one of the most memorable times in my life because I went from being a fan to accompanying this legend. I’ve studied his music for years so it was an honor for me to be on the same stage with him. We rehearsed for a week and did the show. That was the first introduction.”
A couple of years later in 2009, O’Neal was again playing with a Sheila E formed band and Prince called again because he needed back up. His people flew her out to Minneapolis. O’Neal describes her arrival; “He gave me a big hug and he said ‘so, how long do I have you’? I said how long do you need me? He said, ‘you got a coat?’ What he meant by that was that it’s kind of cold in Minneapolis. I said sure, I’m from New York and the rest is history and I’ve been in the band for three years now.”
For musicians who are wondering how to break in and hook up with the major acts O’Neal advices them to set up camp in Los Angeles. She says, “When it comes to touring, this is where most singers come to find their bands.” She also is a member and staff musician at the mega church, West Angeles C.O.G.I.C. where many of the actors, singers, musicians, comedians etc. attend. O’Neal champions, “Go where the scene is. Where ever you’re from it’s all well and good but if you really want to play seriously, you want to go where the music is and this (LA) is where the music is.”
© 2012 Rych McCain Media/Syndication tm
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