Singer Marshal Richards performs on the Third Street Promenade last week. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

THIRD STREET PROMENADE — It’s not hard to find Marshal Richards on the Third Street Promenade, even if he might not be able to give you directions himself.

The singer’s clear, powerful tenor manages to cut through the city sounds of traffic, tourists and other artists.

Richards, 26, is a relative new comer. Originally from Mobile, Ala., he came to the promenade just over a month ago to try his luck and ply his voice.

Richards drove to Santa Monica from Alabama in his Honda Civic. Since arriving at the end of summer, the car has been his home.

In some ways, Richards’ story is not dissimilar from other artists on the promenade.

But, aside from his rich voice and the easy way he performs, Richards has something that makes him stand out from his fellow street musicians.

His style of music? Traditional Neapolitan pop songs and light classical works.

“There’s nobody else out here doing the same kind of music that I’m doing,” Richards said of his repertoire.

Richards was not always a classical serenader, although his heart has always been in music.

Before settling on his singular style, Richards was in a rock-n-roll band and alternately played saxophone, drums and bass.

“That’s what I thought I was going to do,” Richards said of the bass, which he played for about 13 years.

Richards functioned as the band’s bass player and vocalist, but the raucous style of singing made him concerned for the safety of his voice.

He went to a vocal teacher to take in some technique that could help preserve his vocal chords.

Struck by his tenor voice, the teacher gave Richards a piece from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” and a part of Handel’s “Messiah.”

“Once I heard the Mozart and the Handel, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

Richards began pursuing a degree in music at the University of New Orleans in 2004. But his educational journey would last longer than he expected.

One year after Richards arrived in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina followed him, and he found his life caught in the path of the storm.

“I lost my apartment, all the stuff in it. The University of New Orleans cut my program, they couldn’t afford it anymore,” Richards said.

“I had to move,” he said.

After Katrina, there was a great exodus of art and music students who left New Orleans, especially in classical and vocal music areas, Richards said.

“Two of my friends were going to the University of Mississippi, so I went with them,” he said.

But Richards clashed with some of the teachers there.

“I couldn’t stay in that environment,” Richards said. “I went back home finally to the University of South Alabama.”

Richards finally graduated from the University of South Alabama in May 2011 with a bachelor of music, specializing in vocal performance.

After college, Richards turned west to Los Angeles and the music industry. Santa Monica was a place Richards had heard could be safe and receptive for struggling artists.

“That’s one of the first things that people told me, that the street musicians sing on the promenade,” Richards said.

“Getting discovered would be nice, but I’m not relying on that,” he said.

And yet, Richards has already been noticed.

While Richards was trying to find work as a soloists at churches in Santa Monica, he found St. Monica’s pianist and organist Merrill Collins. Or rather, she found him.

Collins saw Richards in the courtyard of the church talking on his cell phone.

“The next day I was at work again, and I heard somebody playing the piano. And there he was again. I had a little time and we hung out,” she said.

As soon as she heard Richards’ voice, Collins got a score she had been working on that put the 23rd Psalm to music. A friend of Collins’ had recently passed, and she wanted to send a recording of her work to the family.

She hadn’t made the recording yet, but Richards was the perfect candidate for the vocals, she said.

After that, Collins and Richards crafted a demo at Fourth Street Music that featured Christmas tunes: “O Holy Night,” and an unusual version of “Jingle Bells.”

“He had always wanted to do a swing version of ‘Jingle Bells,’ which turned out to be delightful,” Collins said.

Richards’ version of “Jingle Bells” will be available as a free download on Collins’ site,, she said.

Richards keeps making connections. He has a manager. He has a demo. He still sings on the promenade, but Richards sees his future as bright.

“I wouldn’t have come out here if I didn’t believe in myself,” Richards said.

“I believe in my voice and my abilities 100 percent. I do believe that things are going to get better. It’s just a matter of time.”

Richards can be reached by email at

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