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Vocalist finds a home in Shreveport Opera chorus

Kate Archer Kent

Shreveport vocalist Kimmie Perales’ first memory of singing was as a toddler with her grandmother.

“We would take a toilet paper roll and hook it to the dog leash to create the microphone,” Perales said with a laugh. "I would sing the ABC song."

At age 3, Perales survived a devastating car crash that left her with an incomplete spinal cord injury. Mostly wheelchair-bound, she devotes her life to singing: in the Shreveport Opera chorus, in area churches, and next year for the NBC show “America’s Got Talent.” Perales relocated from San Antonio four years ago because she found Shreveport to have a vibrant, accessible arts community.

“I have been, for the most part, very healthy. I think a lot of it has to do with being a part of these different productions and being able to go take lessons, and having such a wonderful teacher. A lot of it is in the mind,” Perales said.

Voice teacher Janice Aiken calls Perales a treasure and a quick study. She is learning to speak Italian and French to further her ability in opera singing. Aiken says she’s a leader in her chorus section.

Credit Kate Archer Kent
Vocal teacher Janice Aiken works with more than 20 students, but she says Kimmie Perales stands out in her musicianship.

“She is so engaged when she’s on stage. She’s a wonderful actress. She has such presence. I think people have just accepted that she is an asset to the chorus. They’re happy to have her. Plus, she’s fun,” Aiken said.

The 36-year-old is preparing to be in “Dead Man Walking” next year with, Aiken says, a coveted solo line. Perales says singing is a journey that isn’t limited by her mobility.

“Even if I’m sitting down all the time, I can still go on a journey and sing. Mentally, I just picture myself wherever that person is and what the songwriter wanted to convey, I’m able to feel that,” Perales said.

She encourages people with disabilities to not be afraid to try things and to follow their passion.

Aiken says she’s worked with many vocal students during her 20 years teaching, and Perales stands out with solid musicianship and ambition to pursue the next goal.

“Kimmie has come to the point where she is really tackling some very demanding repertoire,” Aiken said. “You have to grow into some of these things, too, and take it slow and allow your body to coordinate itself and encourage that coordination to support something you’re pushing the envelope a little bit with.”

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.