Cherokee teen sets sights on Broadway’s bright lights

02/11/2019 10:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Austin Jones, 19, plays piano and sings on Jan. 17 at Oklahoma City University. Jones is studying for a bachelor’s degree in music theater. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Oklahoma City University music theater major, Austin Jones, 19, of Lost City, sings on Jan. 17 during class. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Oklahoma City University student Austin Jones, a Cherokee Nation citizen, plays piano on Jan. 17 on campus. Jones said he hopes to perform on Broadway some day. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
OKLAHOMA CITY – Inspired by his love for music, a self-professed “art kid” from Lost City veered from a political path to chase the bright lights of Broadway.

Austin Jones, 19, a 2017 Tahlequah High School graduate, is studying and performing his way to a bachelor’s degree in music theater at Oklahoma City University.

“I pretty much learn to sing, act and dance in hopes that one day I get a job doing those three things,” Jones said. “Broadway is the center that everyone wants to go to. It’s ideal, and it’s open to everyone.”

However, he began his higher learning journey down a different avenue.

“I came to OCU as a political science major because I wanted to do tribal law,” Jones said. “That was always a passion of mine because I felt like I wanted to change the world for the greater good. But I soon realized that politics was not where I was meant to be.”

A trip to Branson, Missouri, sparked the course change in the Cherokee Nation citizen. There with his parents, he witnessed a performance that made him cry, he said.

“I thought to myself, if I can do on that stage what these people did to me just now, I’d change someone’s life and be the inspiration for people who want to pursue something in music,” Jones said. “You know, growing up in Tahlequah, that’s not always really the option for people. People don’t know that is an option out there, that you have the ability to study your craft.”

Jones wrestled with his future for months. “I thought long and hard of what my true passion in life was. It just led back to music. I sang all my life. I live for music. When I decided to switch my major, I was very hesitant because people were very doubtful. But I auditioned and I made it. It was one of the best feelings in the world.”

OCU’s music theater degree is “one of the most music intensive in the country and couples rigorous music training with equally rigorous courses in dance, acting, performance techniques, stagecraft and general studies,” according to the university.

“That’s one thing about being a music major that people don’t realize,” Jones said. “I’m in class usually from 8 a.m. to around 4 or 5 p.m. It’s difficult because you go from class to class to class.”

But the work is paying off as he was recently cast in an opera at OCU.

“So every day after I get done with classes, I have to practice piano and my opera score on top of working and doing homework,” he said. “We love what we do, but we have to study it so intensely so one day we can make a living out of it.”

His music interest blossomed while with the Cherokee National Youth Choir, which performs songs in the Cherokee language. Jones was with the choir from grades six through 12.

“Those were probably the best years of my life, you know, singing in my traditional language and being a part of such a great organization,” he said. “I love to sing in Cherokee. I think one of the things that really guides my musical experience is my heritage.”

As Jones spent his middle and high school years performing, he was also planning for a government-related occupation. He spent time on the CN Tribal Youth Council, in which the young ambassadors advise the CN on youth-related issues.

“Without a sense of identity, you don’t really know yourself,” Jones said. “Being involved within my tribe helped me so much growing up because it gave me a place to belong. I met some of my best friends on the Tribal Youth Council and in the Cherokee youth choir.”

Thanks to his extracurricular efforts, he now attends OCU via its full-ride American Indian Scholarship, which includes full tuition and room and board. “Because I did youth choir, the challenge bowls back in high school and was also president of the Tribal Youth Council, I had the opportunity to come here free of charge,” Jones said.

His post-university plans include travel, Broadway and potentially teaching.

“I’ve thought about going to graduate school to get a teaching degree because I really want to teach music theater one day to students,” he said. “I do know that life will one day put me in New York City. But we don’t know when or how long.”

His advice for fellow teenagers is to seek inspiration from the arts.

“Even if you don’t want to go into a field that deals with art or music or dance or acting, I think it’s so crucial to find something you like within the arts and just do it,” he said. “Make it a hobby. It allows your mind to grow and open to see bigger and better things.”

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