While it may be true that talent can only take you so far, newly–formed military vocal group Colors of Freedom appears to be setting the stage for a post-pandemic climb up the ladder of success. The sextet of National Guardsmen, Army, Navy, and military veteran vocalists are counting on lifting spirits with their music while also showcasing the talent and diversity found within their ranks.
Colors of Freedom is the brainchild of Army veteran Victor Hurtado and Maryland Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Quentin Dorn, who in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic decided they had a unique opportunity to form a musical group that could shine a light on the power of the members’ cultural, ethnic, and service–branch diversity.
“We wanted to show diversity in a time when being different, it is so easy to stay in your differences,” said Dorn, who currently serves as program manager for the Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program, based at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia. “It was important to us to have a diverse group that could speak from so many different perspectives to the American public and communicate that we’re more alike, there’s more that brings us together than separates us.”
Colors of Freedom formed this winter to film an audition for the 2021 season of “America’s Got Talent,” which will air on NBC in June. Their audition song is R&B group En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” using lyrics written for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that push back on prejudice and racism. While there are no guarantees the group will make it through to the live show, Hurtado’s track record is strong. In 2013, he guided the Military Spouses Choir to an appearance in the semifinals of the reality show.
Hurtado, 57, stresses Colors of Freedom’s message is not political but it does reflect the times in which members are living. Hurtado initially came up with the idea of forming a new singing group to perform his original song titled “More than a Witness,” which he co-wrote with Pamela Sheyne, a British songwriter who co-authored Christina Aguilera’s debut single “Genie in the Bottle.” “More than a Witness” is not an anthem to activism but is a call to not passively standby as history occurs.
“This is really more of a human rights kind of thing. It speaks to that. We’re an example of so many walks of life. All six of us. Not just our ethnic backgrounds, but how we were raised, our cultural diversity. It’s a group that wants to not just be inspiring but really wants to make a difference by what we do,” said Hurtado, a producer for the Army Multimedia and Visual Information Directorate in Washington, D.C.
Hurtado reached out to Dorn, who quickly locked down some of military music’s top performers, many of whom developed their harmony on and off the stage as performers in the U.S. Army Soldier Show, which until 2016 toured installations across the globe with a cast of singers and dancers pulled from the ranks of active duty and the reserve component.
Four of Colors of Freedom’s featured vocalists – Hurtado, who served as the Soldier Show artistic director for 13 years, Dorn, Staff Sgt. Kyra Dorn of the U.S. Army Field Band, and Staff Sgt. Erik Tue of the Army Band “Pershing’s Own” – are alumni of the Soldier Show, while DC Army National Guard Sgt. Vicki Golding won the 2006 Military Idol competition and Navy Musician First Class Danlie Cuenca was featured on the Netflix series “Voices of Fire.”
Tue, who started his military career as a supply specialist with the Utah National Guard, auditioned for the Soldier Show while in basic training. As a guardsman, he toured with the group from 2011 to 2016 and then transitioned to active duty as a member of “Pershing’s Own” Army band.
“The diversity of Colors of Freedom is such a beautiful thing,” Tue said. “We’re so diverse in every shape, color and background. The diversity is a message of hope. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what ethnicity you are, what culture. Wherever you are from in the world, we can live as one.”
Within their ranks are three men and three women of different ages, ethnicities, backgrounds and nationalities. Tue is from American Samoa, Golding served in the Australian Army before immigrating to the U.S., Cuenca was born in the Philippines and came to America as a child while Hurtado’s family’s roots are in Mexico.
“We hope that when you see us on stage you see a little bit of you, because we’re representing you,” said Kyra Dorn, 26, who met and later married 34-year-old Quentin Dorn while serving in the Soldier Show. “On television, for a long time I couldn’t see anybody that represented me on the stage. There wasn’t a clear representation of me.”
Cuenca, 26, is grateful for the friendships that already have formed among group members, and she is looking forward to whatever the future holds for Colors of Freedom.
“It’s going to go as far as it’s going to go, and I’m grateful for the experience,” said Cuenca, lead vocalist for the U.S. Navy Band Cruisers. “The hope is to inspire someone to be themselves. To not be apologetic for who they are and what they believe in. And, hopefully, inspire some goodness in what they do. Inspire love.”
Golding, 50, the group’s vocal arranger, believes the pandemic has made all six “amazingly talented musicians” appreciate the unique opportunity before them.
“I’m looking forward to doing more with all of these people because we just slotted together like we’ve been together for years and years and years,” said Golding, a vocalist with the 257th Army Band. “It’s been an amazing experience so far and it has hardly even started.”