From Stax to the Met: Young Memphian to Perform in NYC Opera

This Memphian is traveling to New York City and performing at the Met Opera…all before his 13th birthday. 

If you met him, you might think Caleb Thompson is an ordinary 12-year-old, but he has some extraordinary fall semester plans: he’s making his way from Memphis to New York City to join the roster of the most prestigious opera house in the country—the Metropolitan Opera (aka the Met). 

He’ll take the stage alongside some of the world’s top performers in an opera house that’s been making history since the 1880’s. And this year’s no different: Caleb is joining the cast of Fire Shut Up in my Bones by Terence Blanchard (based on the book by Charles Blow), which will be the Met’s first performance of an opera by a Black composer. 

If you’re already thinking “This kid’s incredible,” you should see his resume (think: features in The Lion King Jr musical, Bluff City Law, and even the Grizzlies youth dance team). But what really stands out about Caleb isn’t his list of accomplishments (albeit long), or even his talent—what makes Caleb truly extraordinary is the support system that has surrounded him from day one.

Last year, Caleb was introduced to opera for the first time thanks to an Opera Class hosted by Stax Music Academy in partnership with Opera Memphis. While he had been performing for years, there was a lot to learn when it comes to opera performance. Mentorship from Stax Music Academy instructors helped foster both Caleb’s talent and his love for musical performance.

“It’s crazy because there’s so many people that support you [at Stax Music Academy]. You can’t take that for granted but have to take that as a blessing,” Caleb reflected. 

And it’s a good thing that he has that support, because there’s a lot of pressure riding on this young Memphian. Caleb will understudy the role of Char’es Baby, the production’s only singing role for a child. What’s so stressful about being an understudy, you ask? “I have a pretty heavy burden on me. I have to step in at any time, so I have to be ready to perform at any moment,” Caleb explained. 

Big opportunities come with big burdens of responsibility. A village of support from family, friends and mentors means Caleb’s never carrying that burden alone. Whether that’s his mom’s is faithful encouragement for every audition. Or family friends that travel miles out of their way (we’re talking across entire continents) to see him perform. Or mentors at Stax that spend hours on Zoom preparing Caleb for auditions.

When it comes to that kind of support, many kids aren’t so lucky—but orgs like Stax Music Academy provide space for young Memphians to pursue their passions. Through personal and professional mentorships, kids like Caleb are building the confidence and skills they need to achieve their dreams and make our city proud.

Caleb is already off to New York to start his in-person practices for the production, which will run from late September to October 23rd. Luckily, he has some family in town that will house him during this new adventure—just another example of the community that’s come together around Caleb: friends, family, teachers, and mentors. 

Any way you slice it, there’s no doubt: it’s the villages that surround us that make all the difference. 

Support Caleb’s work with Stax Music Academy—along with the work of dozens of other students pursuing music, dreams, and college—at #MusicMustContinue.

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