Todd East says Billie is not only his wife but also his best friend and absolute perfect musical partner.
NORTH MIAMI – The reason for Todd East's confidence in his talent is obvious once you hear his music. His passionate vocals infused with perfected piano playing are pure music for the soul.
The born blind, 49-year-old, native New Yorker’s love and talent for music was evident from early on.
“I think music chose me, it was in me,” East said. “When I was six months old I started banging on pots and pans and anything I could get my hands on. My parents must have realized there was some musical talent in me and at age three they bought me my first drum kit. And later, a gal from a local church where I grew up had given us a piano, and I started plinking on that. I am more focused because of my blindness because I’m immersed in my music.”
By age 11 East was playing drums in a Country band.
“I was actually doing professional work on a limited basis at that age,” he said.
East studied Classical and Romantic music styles and took lessons in Jazz at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He studied music theory and performance in college at Nazareth eventually earning a Bachelor's degree there. He took a year off college, touring in clubs around the country, mostly on the east coast performing in hotels and casinos.
“That's when I became more serious about the piano,” he said. “After college, I was working full time as a keyboardist and vocalist. I did that for years and years both with bands and as a solo artist. It took me to Europe in Germany and Switzerland and Paris. I had my own band called Todd East and Second Sight. We did the normal bar stuff, the Southern Rock and all the stuff that people expect.”
As his musical talent developed, East joined a nine-piece band, Prime Time Funk, performing Soul music.
“Between that and solo gigs and playing piano bars, that was my living for a long, long, long time. I've also worked as a studio musician,” he said. “I started doing the dueling piano circuit, and that brought me out to the Midwest to Kansas City, DeMoines, and Omaha. It was really big then, but in '99 it started to slow down.”
In 2012 East moved permanently to the area. He joined the band Delorean as keyboardist playing in casinos and clubs throughout northeast Oklahoma and nearby states.
“We're disbanding Delorean. A couple of us are going on to do some side projects,” East said. “I was working six nights a week for a lot of years.”
East has also worked as a personal trainer and body builder, but performing has been his life’s work, and he says he is now ready to begin a new music ministry with his wife, Billie.
Two years ago East met Billie, and it was music that brought the couple together.
Mutual friends invited each out to a night of dinner and karaoke, and Billie turned her friend down the first weekend but took the invitation the following one.
“We sang karaoke, and I sang, and he said, 'Wow!', and he sang, and I said, “Wow!', and that was it,” Billie said.
“It was love at first sight for me,” East said.
Billie, 55, has been singing Southern Gospel in church and with a groups or duos since she was 12-years-old. Her vocals are beautifully smooth and soulful, blending perfectly with Todd’s powerful and illuminating voice, which radiates emotion through each song.
“I like all kinds of music, but Southern Gospel is my roots, because of my mother,” Billie said. “My mother played piano for a gospel quartet. I traveled with them when I was little and I just kind of grew up in it.”
East says Billie is not only his wife but also his best friend and absolute perfect musical partner.
“When we sang together I knew it was going to be magical, I just knew,” East said. “ I was born with perfect pitch which can either be a blessing or a curse and to find somebody that’s your perfect counterpart is a great thing and truly a blessing and so why not thank God for it. My goal from here on out is to minister for Him.”
The couple's voices harmonize in uniquely inspiring music with the ability to move listeners.
“We're starting a music ministry. We're doing Christian and Southern Gospel,” East said. “It's slow going right now, but we're building it. We sing great together. It’s a new chapter and beyond what I ever thought would happen.”
East says he will continue to perform secular music as a way to make a living until a full-time ministry is established. He performs every Thursday evening at Club 609 in Joplin and has a few more gigs still booked with the band Delorean.
“I'm a reformed alcoholic, and I've been sober for 17 months now thanks to Billie and God,” he said. “I'm a musician. I lived a rough life. People always want to ingratiate you in some way shape or form, and that's usually the way, 'Let me buy you a drink,' or whatever. That part of my life is over, and I want to praise God for having Billie in my life, which is the biggest blessing of all other than His love,” East said. “I'm not trying to be Mr. Religious here, but it's certainly something that's changed in my life. And it's been a struggle – I can't say it hasn't, but it's a good thing.”
The Easts have performed at Harmony Heights and College Heights churches.
“There’s a lot of spontaneity,” East said. “We do Southern Gospel, modern and contemporary. If your passion comes out, it’s going to affect them.”
The couple is available together or individually to perform in churches upon invitation for a love offering in the four-state area and is also available for booking for weddings, ceremonies, and events.
Anyone interested in the Easts’ ministry or music can find the couple on Facebook at East Music or by calling Billie at 479-200-9672 or Todd at 315-576-0283.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.