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Black Neil Diamond returns home

By Staff | Jun 30, 2010

A little more than 10 years ago, Theron Denson was hopping from table to table at an Outback Steak House in Charleston, W.Va., saying, “You look like a Neil Diamond fan!” Then he’d proceed to entertain the diners with his versions of Neil Diamond songs.

He wasn’t a singing waiter; just a restaurant patron with a passion.

That passion lost him his job at a Charleston hotel, where he was asked to stop singing to the clientele.

“But singing is like breathing air to me,” he said, and he left the hotel with no singing bellhop.

“After I lost that job, I had no way to buy food, to pay rent, and I had no insurance. It was Sept. 7, 2000; I looked up and said, ‘God, it looks like it’s you, me and Neil Diamond.’ And for 10 years, that’s what’s sustained me.”

He’s since been bringing “The Black Diamond Show” to venues across the state and country, including opening for the Pointer Sisters June 24 at the Clay Center in Charleston.

The show got its name because Denson is black — the only black Neil Diamond tribute singer around — and it also refers to his home state’s precious product, coal, “a black diamond.” The name was actually coined by a television newscaster in Charleston, he said.

He started doing shows in Charleston, and was approached by Pizzeria Uno to entertain there on a weekly basis.

“I jumped at the opportunity.”

That gig led to Denson’s eventual performance on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” show.

A Pizzeria Uno customer, visiting from Los Angeles, saw him perform, and when he returned home, he told a producer of the show about Denson.

Theron said he performed everywhere he could around his hometown of Charleston in those days.

He joked, “I was at the opening of an envelope.”

Every ribbon cutting he could find, he’d show up in full sequins and sing Neil Diamond songs.

“I was well received and warmly received, and before I knew it, the ‘Black Diamond Show’ had taken on its own life.”

Denson bought his first Neil Diamond album at the age of 15, although there was more R&B in his household — his older siblings listened to the Spinners, Barry White and Lou Rawls. Donna Summer was Denson’s favorite singer when he was growing up.

But from the time he was 11, those who heard him sing told him he sounded just like Neil Diamond.

“After the 500th caucasian person said that to me, I bought Neil Diamond’s ‘The Jazz Singer.’”

Denson never had a voice lesson, and mostly sang in church. In fact, his brothers and sisters told him to “pipe down.”

“They could sing better than me,” he said.

After high school — he graduated from a high school in Missouri where his family had moved — he “gypsied around” a bit, then attended Oklahoma Christian College to study the Bible and become a minister.

He then decided to transfer to Pepperdine, a Christian college in Malibu, Calif.

A “tough place” to live, he laughed. “Every morning you’d wake up and have to decide — surf or school?”

It was there he came in contact with the Pointer Sisters and family.

“They took me under their wing; I became their surrogate child, and was bit by the entertainment bug.”

He first met Malick, the son of Ruth Pointer, while both were students at Pepperdine. “There weren’t that many black people at Pepperdine.”

The two were friends, and eventually he found out who he was related to.

“I said to him, ‘You never told me who your mom is.’ He dead panned, ‘Oh, yeah, dude. My mom’s a rock star.’”

Then he told him, “My mom wants to meet you.”

“They mentored me, and I embraced them personally,” he said.

And, now, during this trip back east, he’ll open for them at Charleston’s Clay Center, on Thursday, June 24.

“I’m so excited,” he said, borrowing from one of the Pointer Sisters’ hits.

“It will be the first time they’ll get to see me perform in front of an audience. I’m excited to show them what they’ve taught me over the years. It’ll be great to see their show and to open for them in my hometown.”

While Denson has never performed for Neil Diamond, Diamond is aware of his show.

“He’s been very supportive of my Black Diamond Show,” Denson said. “He knows of it and seems pleased it exists. I’m hoping once my band is airtight and perfect, he’ll get to see it.”

In fact, “he has linked his website with mine.”

“I have come in contact with Neil Diamond’s touring percussionist. He’s trying to work it out to come to West Virginia to see me. He’s been with Mr. Diamond since 1976.”

A meeting with Diamond would “be the highlight of my career,” Denson said.

He has dreams of performing a duet with Diamond.

“’Hello Again’ would be perfect,” he said.

Denson envisions the scene. The stage is dark. He would come out and sing; the lights would come up, and the audience would see him. Then, Diamond would come out and say, “Fooled you!”

Denson travels a lot right now, and he does perform in Las Vegas on “the strip” at the Bootlegger Bistro.

“I’m touring all the time. Until it catches fire in Las Vegas, you gotta tour. I like touring, seeing places and experiencing different cultures. I’ve got lots of road dates in the future,” and he does now call Las Vegas home.

Also during his 10-year career, he auditioned for “America’s Got Talent,” and got sent through to Hollywood. However, he was not able to participate in the show “due to circumstances beyond my control.”

“It looked and felt like ‘American Idol’ and it was a great experience,” he said.

“It was a great feeling to hear the words, ‘You’re going to Hollywood!’”

Coincidentally, he appeared in Wheeling recently partly because of a Wheeling native who saw him perform in Charleston, and suggested he contact River City Ale Works.

“I met Theron while I was working in the West Virginia State Legislature years ago,” said Healy Nardone of Glen Dale. “He was always at the same events I was, and we ended up being instant friends. I remember his energy was magnetic and how unique I thought his talent was for the West Virginia market! He dreamed big and I did, too — and I knew he would go far! I loved his perseverance and his spirit.

“I’ve never seen Neil perform, but I have seen the Black Diamond perform! And for any of Theron’s shows I can attend, expect to see me in the front row! He takes it to another level,” she said.

Contact Phyllis at letters@graffitiwv.com