Raleigh's Yolanda Rabun has the law and a song in her heart

CorrespondentDecember 27, 2012 

Yolanda Rabun.

COURTESY OF MARITZA PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Details “The Cotton Room presents New Year’s Jazzin’ Eve with Art of Cool,” with the Foreign Exchange, Yolanda Rabun, the Al Strong Quintet, Marcus Anderson and DJ Apple Juice Kid When: 8 p.m. Monday Where: The Cotton Room, 807 E. Main St., Durham Cost: $80-$200 Details: theartofcoolproject.com

Warning: If you ever find yourself in the company of Yolanda Rabun, there’s a good chance you might end up feeling inadequate and unfulfilled about your life.

To say Rabun is a woman of many talents would be an understatement. Apart from being a singer and an actress as well as a wife and mother of two boys, she is also a professional attorney, primarily dealing in intellectual properties and mergers and acquisitions. “I just do anything and everything that God allows me to do with my gift,” says Rabun, 44, outside of a downtown Raleigh café one Saturday afternoon. “And, sometimes, I learn as I go.”

So, is there anything she can’t do?

“I cannot draw,” she admits. “I can tell you that.”

Despite that, Rabun is happy about all she’s achieved this year. She has done live shows all over the place, performing songs from her 2011 soul/smooth jazz debut, “So Real.” She has done musical theater productions, playing Dulcinea in Burning Coal Theatre’s production of “Man of La Mancha” and Gary Coleman in a Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy production of “Avenue Q.”

This month, she released an album, “Christmastime,” opened for the Isley Brothers at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and she will ring in the new year at Durham’s Cotton Room on Monday, as part of a New Year’s Eve show that also features the Foreign Exchange, the Al Strong Quintet and Marcus Anderson.

Another big achievement she had this year was playing one of her idols, Nina Simone, in a one-woman show. The production of “Nina Simone … What More Can I Say?” was the centerpiece of a Nina Simone retrospective exhibit held at UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center this fall. Rabun, who was handpicked for the role by the show’s author, Durham playwright/poet Howard Craft, was more than ready to fill the jazz legend’s shoes.

“I love Nina Simone,” she says. “She was one of the persons that influenced me, one of the persons that my mom first taught me about. Because, for her, music was always first and, in the music, she had to tell a story. That’s what I felt. And that’s what I try and do with my music. That’s what I try to do with my life, you know.”

‘Born to be on stage’

Where did this innate desire to perform came from? “I think I was born to be on stage,” she answers. A native of Florida, she went to a performing arts high school in Atlanta where she learned everything from dancing to opera singing. Despite her love for performing, she studied law, getting a law degree from Boston College. “That stimulates the other side of my brain,” she says. “You know, that intellectual need to have information, process it and then spit it back out.”

She moved to Raleigh in 1994, after landing a job as corporate counsel for IBM. “When I first got here, I did not go into theater right away, because I was just married,” she remembers. “And I told my husband, for the first year I was his, and that I was dedicated to being truly nothing else but for him. And then, my mother joked with him and said, ‘Yolanda’s kidding herself, because she belongs on the stage. She’ll get back to the stage.’”

Leading a double life

She eventually began auditioning for theater roles, snagging parts in Raleigh Little Theatre and North Carolina Theatre shows, while still practicing law. Since she still leads this double life, Rabun says she doesn’t see herself backing out of either profession anytime soon.

“I can’t say that there’s a preference, because I can tell you that when I get heavy, heavy, heavy into the law, I miss my music,” she says. “When I get heavy, heavy, heavy into the music, I miss my law. And, so, I love them both, because they balance each other out.”

Now that she has not one but two albums under her belt, Rabun is looking to see where this journey will take her next. “My goal is to always just make really good music,” she says. “I just let my music take me where it’s gonna take me. When I sing, I feel like something else takes over, you know. And when I’m in the law, I feel like – I can’t explain it – I just get so much help from things around me. Like, information comes to me.”

Is there anything else she would love to have come to her? “You know what?” she says. “I would love to get a Grammy.”

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