Johnathan Celestin loves performing at Pride festivals.
“It’s always big energy and lots of love,” said the Washington, D.C.-based singer. “I think a lot of time people come to Prides to celebrate. It’s a celebration and that’s important. But a large part of my show is that I aim to impart to people a message of encouragement. There are a lot of people going through a lot of things. So I try to make sure while I’m there I impart some kind of encouragement. I want to leave people with that. I want people to remember how I made them feel.”
Born and raised in Virginia, Celestin, like a lot of singers, came up in the church. “I came from a religious household growing up,” he recalled. “My father was predominantly the spearhead behind that whole experience. We grew up going to church quite often during the week. So it’s always been a part of me. I think I’m more spiritual than religious, like 99 percent of the rest of millennials. I think there will always be things that I will carry with me from being a church boy.”
From an early age, Celestin was not only singing but playing the piano as well. He wrote his first instrumental when he was just 9 years old. “I likened myself to be a pianist when I was younger,” Celestin said. “It was like a minute and a half song I wrote sitting at the piano. It was pretty dark and almost tragic. But it was like me materializing the pain that I was going through at that time as a 9-year-old boy. My parents had just separated. So music had always been that therapeutic outlet for me. I’ve always used music to assuage any woes I’ve been through.”
At 20, Celestin moved to New York with $200 in his pocket and a dream in his heart. He lived in a hostel in Harlem rent-free in exchange for cleaning up the place. He worked retail while he auditioned for Broadway shows, and eventually made it into a couple of national tours for shows such as “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and “5 Guys Named Moe.”
He also did commercial jingles for national brands such as McDonalds, Old Navy and Target. “I like doing jingles because I get to stretch my vocal vocabulary and my delivery,” said Celestin. “I could be singing a Top 40 song and then I could be crooning a jazz song in the next submission. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me trying new things.”
After about six years in the city, Celestin went back to school, studying political science with a concentration in international relations at prestigious Columbia University. It was while at Columbia that he released his first EP, titled “… and then the rolling stone fell in love…” in 2012.
“I had never felt like I had a home,” Celestin said, explaining the title. “Not in a negative sense, like I was homeless, but I always felt I was able to go wherever a gig took me. I toured a lot with theater shows and I never felt beholden to any one place. I was always a bit of a rolling stone. And my father, ironically enough, was very much a rolling stone. His father, too. So it was almost generational. Funny enough, very much in the same way his story probably unfolded, I fell in love and when I fell in love it was the first time I felt I had a home. I wanted to be somewhere.”
Eventually, Celestin took a day job and put music on the back burner for few years. But now he’s back and ready to refocus on touching people through song. “My musical style is pretty open right now,’ said Celestin. “It’s very R&B-pop, very visceral of all music, honest, vocal heavy. My music for the most part showcases my vocals. But I’m actually looking to open up my palette in terms of the type of music I’m doing. My new single, which is coming out in a month or so, is called ‘Quicksand.’ It has small elements of EDM (electronic dance music) in it. I’m trying to fuse more sounds together.”
After “Quicksand,” Celestin plans to release two more singles before the year’s end and plans an entire album to follow. And he’s glad to have reconnected with what he feels is his purpose. “Life is beautiful and complex and at the risk of sounding cliche, we’re all put here for a reason and a purpose,” he said. “It’s important that you follow that purpose and never silence your inner voice. Whether it’s in a relationship or a professional move, never silence that voice. Always take it seriously.”