Theron Denson is an inspiration.
Besides singing his heart out as the Black Diamond, sharing the songs of Neil Diamond, Denson's favorite thing to do is to inspire others in the not-so-easy world of entertainment.
Denson has been singing since he was a little boy, first in his church in Charleston, W.Va. It was in church where people began to recognize how much the 11-year-old boy sounded like Diamond - and the rest is history.
"People ask me how I found Neil Diamond. Really, Neil Diamond found me," he said.
That history has recently been captured in "The Black Diamond: The Real Illusion," written by Scott Allen Nollen.
"I first met Scott (in a Las Vegas casino) about four years ago. He would contact me by email every six months and tell me, 'I want to write that book,'" Denson said.
"I would tell him, 'That's very funny.' That was our exchange for about three to four years."
But, one time, Nollen said something that "struck a chord," Denson said. "'I believe your story can be an inspiration'" to others struggling to succeed.
"Why didn't you tell me that three years ago? We could have had this thing done!" Denson told him.
"When I met Theron in Las Vegas in 2009, I was fascinated by his story and unique talent," Nollen said. "And I thought the fact that he had been through some tough times, including a rough childhood and being homeless for a time, might prove inspirational to readers. He has such a positive, upbeat attitude, no matter what happens! That aspect of his personality is inspirational to me."
"I hope it turns out to be a book that encourages others to follow their dreams. Those who read it will see themselves. This is to encourage others that if it's your dream, stay on the path. Hard work, passion ... pay off," Denson said.
Denson believes you must "find the light in every situation, because there is one."
"We don't always see it when we're bogged down. That light will save us every time. It keeps you from giving up," he said.
He borrows a phrase from Martin Luther King Jr. - it's his mantra, he said. "If you can't fly then run; if you can't run then walk; if you can't walk then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."
It was on Oct. 11, 2011 - two years to the day that he sat down at Wheeling Island Casino to talk about his new book - he took a Greyhound (bus, not dog!) to Nashville, Tenn. ... "not knowing anyone, wondering what I had done."
And he thought, "I'm too old for this."
But two years later, he's proud to say he has a band that supports him - the band previously toured with Wanda Jackson, the "queen of rockabilly" - and they've done "some cool gigs" on the road as well as some concerts in Nashville.
Recently he was listed in the Nashville Arts & Entertainment Guide as "one of three tribute acts to watch."
His popularity is a "testament to Neil Diamond, and to the love of his music," Denson said.
Denson calls West Virginia and Missouri home, having lived his early years in Charleston and his high school years in Columbia, Mo.
But it was in Charleston that his career was nurtured, and later it's where he kicked it off on Sept. 17, 13 years ago.
He's never had a "regular" job since - a nice change from when he was homeless, singing in the streets of Washington, D.C., and making his daily meals off the $1 menu at fast food joints.
"That was a "crazy time, but it was fun," he said.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Nollen interviewed, by email or phone, more than 150 people in order to tell Theron's story.
"Even a guy in Ireland," Denson said. Ambrose O'Shea is one of Diamond's biggest fans, Denson said.
O'Shea writes in the book, "Believe me, when I tell you that it's hard to make it as a Neil Diamond tribute artist. It must be even harder to make it as a black Neil Diamond tribute artist; if but one guy can, it will be Theron."
The foreword of the book was written by Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, for whom Denson had the pleasure of opening in Charleston and in Detroit, Mich.
He had become acquainted first with Pointer's son Malik at Pepperdine University, but "quickly became part of the Pointer family," in 1985, she wrote.
"... I can honestly say one of my proudest moments where Theron is concerned is when his Black Diamond Experience opened a Pointer Sisters show in his own hometown of Charleston, W.Va., in 2010. He blew the audience away there and at a Detroit performance a few months later, where he opened for us again. Wow - what an entertainer he's blossomed into," she said.
The book details his life - the good and the bad - through quotes from friends, family and teachers as well as historical narrative, from the moment he was born on Feb. 21, 1964, in the U.S. Naval Hospital, to March of this year.
Family photos and photos with friends and fans pepper the pages of the book
His mom, Annette, says: "I'm proud of Theron for a lot of reasons. In today's world, there are so many things happening to the young people, especially black young men. For me to have raised four boys and a daughter, and to raise a son who is liked by everybody and can give something back that he has received as a gift from God, is just awesome."
Quoting The Band Perry from a recent article, Denson said, "The secret to making it in Nashville is to outlast the process."
"You can have all of the talent, but you have to endure," he added.
"It's been a wild ride becoming The Black Diamond - a wonderful, wild and colorful ride. I wouldn't change a thing."
"I'm happy to have my story told in such an emotional way. I hope it will inspire the reader to go forth in pursuing their dream with gusto, energy and courage. If that happens, the book was a success - the book's mission was accomplished."