WAXAHACHIE — As the lights dimmed, the curtains drew back, and a spotlight pierced the darkness, a shy elementary school security guard stood before a hushed audience. As he approached the microphone with a soundtrack of “A Song For You” playing through the speakers, no one expected what would happen next.
“Singing has always been my everything,” expressed David Duke, a security guard at Northside Elementary and 2005 Waxahachie High School graduate. “It’s always been my comfort zone and anything I’ve ever been through, I’d always take it back to singing. That song that I actually sang for the kids, it reminds me of myself a lot. The lyrics and words of the song – I love it, and it makes me feel good inside."
With beautifully executed melodies and authentic lyrics that speak to the heart, Duke sang with genuine soul last Friday, March 10.
“Honestly, I was just singing. Just doing it for the kids because they wanted me to do it, but what was going on in my head, I was like, ‘I want to show somebody that I can still do it, and I still have the talent,’” Duke revealed.
Raised by his grandparents and singing since he was three, Duke’s passion for music took him through school choirs and venue performances.
“I was raised by my grandparents and just being around them, they taught me a lot of morals and goals. My grandmother always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to do it,’” Duke recalled. “God gave me this voice, and my grandmother used to tell me all the time, ‘If you don’t use it, he’ll take it from you.’ So I remember that and it’s like I constantly try to find ways that I can sing. I don’t care where it is; I sing everywhere all the time. It made me realize, if I don’t keep singing or doing this, one, it’ll never be heard, and two, he’ll take it from you. And I don’t want him to take it from me because I think that’s the greatest talent I have."
In 2003, Duke’s grandmother passed away, leaving him with his grandfather and the encouragement to further pursue his talent
“I tried out for American Idol season seven in 2007, and I didn’t make it at all. The first time I went, it was like, ‘Thank you, bye’ pretty much. You have to audition four times, so I didn’t make it passed the first round,” Duke recalled. “So what I did is I went back in 2009 and made it all the way.”
Before being cancelled, American Idol invited vocal talent from across the U.S. to gather for an intense competition where competitors sang for a chance at fame in front of celebrity judges. From 2002 to April 2016, the TV show ranked second for highest broadcast ratings in America — just behind the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards.
And, though the competition was fierce, Duke narrowed the number of contestants, passing through the group audition phase and nearing his way to the Top 30.
“I was almost to the top thirty, and I thought ‘I think I’ve got it.’ I sang Alicia Keys', ‘No One’ and I thought, ‘Okay, I got it.’ And they told me I didn’t make it,” Duke shook his head. “I’ve always been close to getting there, real close. From American Idol to doing shows and people hearing about me. I’ve always been close, but it seems like when I’m almost through the door it just shuts.
“Randy [Jackson] was like, ‘You can really sing, but I just don’t know.’ After that, I was bummed about it. But ever since I’ve been singing off and on, preaching and singing at churches, weddings, funerals - all of it. It hasn’t stopped me, I’m just trying to be heard."
Although disappointment took its toll, Duke never gave up, determined to serve as a role model to his son.
“I have a one-year-old son, and he’s crazy about me,” Duke chuckled. “I look at him, and I see so much of me in him because he loves music – piano, drums, singing, all of it. The fact that I could make an impact on him makes me feel good to know that.”
While being a full-time father, Duke is also a Youth Minister at Mount Lebanon Baptist Primitive Church and a singer for Eternal Rest Funeral Home, using his voice wherever he goes.
"Hopefully, one day, I could have an impact on the world. That’s my main goal, but for now, I tell people, ‘I’m a security officer.’” He laughed.
NORTHSIDE’S GOT TALENT
Stretching that impact and adding a hat to his assemblage of careers, Duke accepted a security guard position at Northside Elementary.
“It’s crazy how I got this job,” Duke reminisced. “The supervisor of the Security Guard Department, he and I did an interview, and he was like, ‘I really like you, but I won’t have a position open until next year.’ And he told me that came back and actually hired somebody else. So I was like, ‘Okay, I think I’ll work at Ennis, and when he’s ready, he’ll call me back.’
“So I started working as a full-time sub for Ennis High School and did that for three weeks. Around November, he called me, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I thought you were going to call me next year?’ And he was like, “No, I want to give you a position.’ So he gave me the job, and I never expected it at all."
Winning the hearts of the Northside staff and students alike, Duke was hired mid-year and quickly became a favorite at the school.
“He has quickly transitioned into his role as a security officer for Northside. Officer Duke is a daily presence on campus, interacting with students and staff alike. He has a kind, quiet spirit, which is a great addition to our campus,” complemented Northside Elementary Principal Jennifer Burns.
“With me being a minister and everything, I’ve built a lot of relationships with those kids. And with a few of the kids, we have different handshakes that we do. They look up to me, so when they see me, it’s, ‘Officer Duke! Officer Duke!’” Duke grinned, spilling his shy secret to the kids that he auditioned for American Idol once before.
“The kids knew I was on American Idol and they’d ask me every day, ‘Officer Duke, will you sing for us?’ And I was like, ‘Nah, nah,’” he waved his hand, teasing.
As the rumors of Duke’s golden voice spread throughout the campus, teachers began encouraging him to perform for the annual talent show.
“I heard through the grapevine that he could sing, but I had no idea what an incredible talent he has! We knew he was going to sing in the ‘Northside's Got Talent’ show,” Burns said.
“When the talent show came about, all the teachers were begging me to sing, and I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ So I finally said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’
“We planned to have him be the opening act,” Burns described the surprise for the kids.
“The kids had no idea, and so the curtains were closed and when they opened them – I was standing there,” Duke recalled the particular moment.
With zeal and extraordinary vocal power, Duke’s voice easily filled the quiet auditorium.
“Whatever I have to do just to be heard, I’m trying to stick my foot out to do it. When I sing, I do it with meaning. When a lot of people sing, they don’t sing with purpose and are doing it just to do it. But for me, I do it because I feel it. Every word of whatever song I’m singing, you have to sing it with emotion and feeling,” Duke conveyed.
“I'll never forget hearing him for the first time. His voice is so powerful,” Burns expressed. “When he hit the first few notes of ‘A Song for You,’ I truly believe the audience couldn't believe their ears. We hung on every word, and then the cheers and applause filled up the room.”
“They were all freaking out and screaming, and yelling,” Duke laughed at the students’ reaction. “They actually walk up to me, hug me and say, ‘I’m touching a celebrity.’ And I say, ‘I’m not a celebrity, I’m just me.’ It’s good to reach the kids.”
After filming the performance, a Waxahachie ISD representative uploaded the video to the school's Facebook page that night — and it went viral.
“When I was singing, I was like, ‘I’m singing.’ And when a lady from Waxahachie ISD said, ‘Hey, you did a good job, I’m going to post it.’ I wasn’t thinking anything of it because I’ve been in videos over time and probably get the most of 100 views. I mean, I never get any kind of recognition for it, and the next thing I know, it had gotten up to 6,000 views within a few hours. Then after that, it’s just been climbing ever since,” Duke said.
The post began to spread like a wildfire as it circulated the countryside, with more than 17,000 views and more than 250 shares.
“It’s crazy, because I never expected it,” Duke admitted. “I saw somebody had tagged Good Morning America and Robin Roberts and another guy had tagged A&R from Universal Records. I’ve had people inbox me telling me how good I sang, people from New York, Arkansas, and all over. So I’m hoping somebody sees it because I just want to be heard,” he added.
As for the community’s response to Duke’s instant recognition, nothing but positive feedback has been submitted.
“Everybody has been positive. Everyone has been like, ‘You sing so good. I love your voice. It’s so amazing. You sooth my soul.’ I’ve been getting a lot of comments, and I’m just like, ‘Thank you,’” Duke expressed. “The goal is to always remain humble, and I’m very humbled by this. Even to get this far, I’m glad about it. If I leave here now and it takes me nowhere else, the fact that I’ve done something that somebody saw, it’s good enough for me. American Idol – it went good, and just the fact that I got that far, that was good enough for me at that time. Now, I’m like, ‘Lord I see what you’re doing. Let me get through the door.'"
Although life had thrown this vocal artist a few curveballs with the unfortunate American Idol auditions, Duke remains hopeful that his music will inspire not only his community but also the world.
“My ultimate goal is to reach somebody that’s going through something or to bless somebody’s life. I haven’t always had a bunch of nice things or anything like that, so my hope is that I can be blessed, so eventually I can give to somebody else. So my goal is to definitely encourage somebody, whether it’s through my music or singing, even preaching – that’s still enough for me,” Duke nodded, later saying that he hopes to give back to the community that has given so much to him. “I’m in hopes to do something great. To do better, be better, and see something else. And if I do go out into the world and see something, I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m from Waxahachie, it’s my hometown.’ I want people to understand our community, and to know what Waxahachie is and about. When you do things like that, people start to inquire, ‘Waxahachie? Let me go check it out. He’s from Waxahachie, so there must be many more people who can do that.'"
“I’m in hopes to do something great. To do better, be better, and see something else. And if I do go out into the world and see something, I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m from Waxahachie, it’s my hometown.’ I want people to understand our community, and to know what Waxahachie is and about. When you do things like that, people start to inquire, ‘Waxahachie? Let me go check it out. He’s from Waxahachie, so there must be many more people who can do that.'"
As for the time being, Duke remains the songbird security guard for Northside Elementary, encouraging one person at a time with his golden voice.
“A lot of people say, ‘You’re just a security officer for kids,’ and then there’s people who are like, ‘Well, this security guard can really sing!’” he finished with a laugh.
To watch David Duke’s performance, visit facebook.com/WaxahachieISD
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer