Soul Revue director balances teaching and touring

The new director of Soul Revue was a junior at IU when John Mellencamp took her on tour with him in1986.

Director Crystal Taliefero is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who is no stranger to the stage. In addition to Mellencamp, she has performed with artists like Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and is currently on tour with Billy Joel.

Even though she’s been with Billy Joel since 1989, she said being back at IU feels like being home.

The IU Soul Revue is a class and ensemble that meets twice a week and has a variety of performances throughout the year.

“We have this one common bond and that is we love soul, we love funk, we love R&B music,” she said. “We love African-American popular music. We just love it, so that’s why we’re all here together playing on the same stage.”

She is currently balancing stadium shows with Joel, IU Soul Revue and being a single mother to her 15-year-old daughter, Kodee.

“It’s a juggling act,” she said.

This year Taliefero traveled to IU on Mondays and left Fridays to go home to her daughter in Franklin, Tennessee. In between all of this, she met Joel to play stadiums across the country.

Hannah Crane, events and communications specialist at the African American Arts Institute, said Taliefero still focuses on the thing in front of her despite her packed schedule.

“I just keep moving,” Taliefero said. “I guess God will tell me when I need to stop, so I just leave it up to him. It’s in his hands anyway.”

Taliefero said she reminds herself of the support of others and also to support the brothers and sisters below her.

She said she tries to instill these same words into her students by leading by example.

“The Soul Revue and African American Arts Institute set her on her path for success,” Crane said. “Now she wants to give the students the same opportunities, and she’s working with some of the same people.”

Charles Sykes, the executive director of the AAAI, taught Taliefero in her short time at IU, Crane said. When the Soul Revue director position opened last year, he reached out to her, and they were able to find an arrangement that allowed Taliefero to teach and tour. Crane said Taliefero’s ability to balance everything was evidence to the experience and professionalism she brings to IU.

“She is a living example of how to use the skills that you get here in college and apply them to your life to be successful,” she said.

Throughout her first year, Taliefero said she saw her students blossom as a group, which is evidenced by their performances. She said the relationships she has created with her group would make it difficult for her to leave, and after discussing it with her daughter, Taliefero decided to stay for another year.

The diversity of the group, different backgrounds and majors, is what allows the group to play its music all together.

“She has really elevated that aspect of the program that her students come from all different backgrounds, all different majors, but she’s able to pull out the best from them,” Crane said.

From playing “Born to Run” live on the fly with Bruce Springsteen and travelling as far as Perth, Australia, to rehearsing in the Grand Hall of Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center and traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, Taliefero looks for diversity and new experiences everywhere she goes.

“It’s a different rhythm, different beat, and I like experiencing those things,” she said. “I try to incorporate them into my life somehow, just kind of blend it in, because we’re all in this thing together anyway. We all might as well get along.”

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