For a soul singer who has performed with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion and Toni Braxton, a small concert at St. John the Divine Anglican Church might seem sub par, but for Checo Tohomaso, it’s extremely important.
That’s because on May 12 he will perform a special concert with the Victoria Soul Gospel Choir for Mother’s Day, in honour of the many women who were mother figures to him.
Tohomaso was born in Florida, but moved around a lot, growing up in Hawaii and Okinawa, Japan and also spent a good portion of his childhood in New Orleans. While he lived with his biological mother in the summer, he grew up the rest of the year with his aunts and grandmother.
“There were about four women in my life that really helped me,” he says. “And, each one had a different strength.”
He says his aunt Lilly, from New Orleans, was an inspirational and sweet woman who taught him about God, and baked him his favourite upside-down pineapple cake.
His Aunt Bea was an inspirational teacher with a master’s in education who lived in Florida, until her recent passing. “She was 96 years young,” Tohomaso says. “She went to the gym every day to the last.”
But it was with his aunt Willy Mae, he spent most of his time, and she nurtured him, baking banana pudding with meringue.
His grandmother, Leona, was also a huge figure in his life.
“They all gave me a piano, and got me piano lessons,” he says. “They were supportive and let me do my own thing because they knew as long as I was busy, I’d stay out of trouble.”
Tohomaso said that it’s because of his diverse childhood that he can now relate to so many people. The Vancouver-based artist acts as the music director for the Vancouver Outreach Community Sweet Soul Gospel Choir, and still travels, performs and speaks to youth.
“I tell them to stay true to the music from the heart, don’t care about money, it will take you places you’d never believe.”
Tohomaso said the Mother’s Day concert is for everyone with motherly figures in their lives, whether they’re still here or have passed on.
“A lot of people have lost them, we want songs to comfort, encourage and rejoice,” he says.
Tohomaso takes the stage Saturday May 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and proceeds benefit the St. John the Divine food bank, which he says, would be all his aunts would want.
“What do moms always do?” Tohomaso asks with a laugh. “They feed you.”
For more information, or to get tickets, visit victoriasoulgospel.ca