Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” vocalists visit SIU, set to perform at Pinch


Musicians Darryl Phinnessee and Dorian Holley pose after their live vocal performance Friday, Sept. 2, 2016, in the Department of Cinema and Photography’s Soundstage room in the Communications Building. Holley was the vocal director for the late Michael Jackson’s final tour and Phinnessee, an SIU alumnus, joined Jackson for three world tours. (Morgan Timms | @Morgan_Timms)

By Bekah Sanders

Members of Michael Jackson’s former tour group visited SIU on Friday afternoon to talk with students about the importance of music and performance.

“Be your true self and give 100 percent,” Darryl Phinnessee said to a small crowd gathered in SIU’s Communications Building, where he and Dorian Holley answered questions followed by a small performance. 

Phinnessee, a 1979 SIU School of Music graduate, has performed on “Dancing with the Stars,” contributed to the soundtrack of “Save the Last Dance” and joined Michael Jackson on three tours as a vocalist.


As he spoke to the group, Phinnessee recalled sneaking into SIU’s Old Baptist Foundation to record a jingle for Pinch Penny Pub — the first recording of many in his career. That led to co-writing the theme song of the TV show “Frazier.”

Holley, of Los Angeles, was the vocal director for Michael Jackson and later took on the role of vocal coach for the television singing competition, “American Idol.”

“The reason you do it is not to sing with Michael Jackson or Madonna,” Holley said. “That is a by-product.”

Instead, people sing because they are meant to, he said.

Phinnessee, who is originally from East Saint Louis, said he tries to give his all during every performance. To help consistently perform well, Phinnessee said artists need to “make a connection” to the music and story they want to tell.

“The more personal, the more universal,” he said of the music industry.

After the questionnaire, Phinnessee began the vocal performance with an arrangement of “Jukebox Saturday Night,” which he used to audition for a Michael Jackson tour.


Holley followed with a slow rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”

The Friday presentation was set-up by Todd Herreman, a senior lecturer in radio, television and digital media, who met Phinnessee and Holley while working with them on Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour.

Herreman said he wanted to allow students this opportunity because with the combination of stress and other problems in the world, it can be difficult for students to be their genuine selves.

“In finding [my] voice, I wish someone had told me I was enough,” Phinnessee said. “Every person is exotic. See your value. There are things that will not be in the world unless you put [them] there.”

Phinnessee and Holley will round off the weekend at 9 p.m. Saturday when they perform with Jungle Dogs at Pinch Penny Pub.

Staff writer Bekah Sanders can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @rsanders_DE.

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