When Jarekus Singleton was 12, he played for a basketball team called the Jackson Panthers, and spent most of his time on the bench, despite the fact that he knew he could play ball. When he left the Panthers for the Jackson Tigers, his perspective began to change.
“My coaches saw something in me that I guess the Jackson Panthers didn't,” said Singleton, 28. “My first year playing, I won the Newcomer of the Year Award. We went to nationals, and I was one of the top 10 scorers. Nothing had changed. I was the same guy. I was the same player. But I had to sit on the bench and watch people play in front of me, and I knew I was better than that.
“I guess that's why I'm so humble now because every little thing that I get is a monumental thing for me. I'm glad God made me understand that at an early age in life. I've had to literally fight for every inch in life that I have gained, whether it was for basketball or music.”
Today, the high school and college basketball standout is focused on his music career. Life has been a winding path that forced him to switch from one exceptional God-given talent to another.
“I know music. I know basketball. And I know hard work,” said Singleton. “And I thank God for having two talents and two passions.”
Singleton's story begins around age 9 when his uncle, Tony Shearry, introduced him to bass guitar at his grandfather's Jackson church, True Gospel Church of God in Christ, where most of his family members played an instrument. He picked it up the first night he was shown how to play. Realizing that his nephew was a quick learner, Shearry taught him choir songs. But no one at school knew Singleton was musically inclined because he was obsessed with basketball.
“That's all I wanted to do was play basketball all day, every day,” he said.
That's because his other uncle, Tim Singleton, taught him how to play and win.
“He always told me, ‘Every time you step out here, you're the best on the court,'” Singleton said. “He practiced with me all the time. He was a grown man, like 6'2, 225 pounds, and I was a little kid. But he used to play me one-on-one in my grandma's backyard like I was an adult. I used to cry. He didn't care. He was tough on me, and he wouldn't let me quit. Just like my uncle who taught me music. I wasn't allowed to quit.”
That work ethic paid off. In 2002, the Clinton resident was the No. 1 basketball player in the state. He attended the University of Southern Mississippi on a basketball scholarship and played there two years before transferring to William Carey University, where he won just about every basketball award you can win, including the National Player of the Year award.
“Coming out of William Carey in 2007, I knew someone was going to give me an NBA tryout and invite me to training camp,” he said. “It never happened. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers had been calling my agent saying ‘Jarekus is an interesting talent, and we've got him under our radar.' But they never called me to go to training camp, and that devastated me.”
He moved to the Middle East to play for a Lebanon basketball team the following season, but when someone set off a bomb targeting a U.S. Embassy car two blocks from his apartment, Singleton talked to his manager about coming home.
“I got an email from the U.S. Embassy saying: ‘Do not go outside. Be aware of your surroundings.' It said eight people were killed and 16 were injured, and I was like, this is not the place for me. When I got home, the first thing I did was kiss my mama's driveway. I changed clothes, went to church and played music. I was glad to be on American soil.”
He also began basketball training again because he was determined to get to the NBA, but after injuring his ankle, and having surgery to repair damaged cartilage, Singleton was on crutches for 18 weeks. During this time, he began playing music with a couple of bands to earn extra cash, and his mother encouraged him to start his own band.
“I got my cousins together and we just started grinding,” he said.
His first gig was at F. Jones Corner on Feb. 20, 2010.
During his first year as a professional performer, he played in the Chicago Blues Festival and several other festivals while honing his skills. The Jackson Music Awards also nominated Singleton for Blues Artist of the Year, an award he won in 2012.
He recently competed for the third time in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis with more than 120 bands, which Singleton describes as “the American Idol for blues artists.” Because of the exposure he received there, three of his songs are now on rotation on Sirius Satellite Radio and a couple of record label executives have been inquiring about him.
Business associate Peggy Brown, of Hit the Road Entertainment, has been working with Singleton about a year.
“I often describe him as an artist with immense talent and drive,” she said. “He has a creative way with words, which helps him in his songwriting. On a personal level, he is funny. He has a great sense of humor. Jarekus can meet anyone and immediately put them at ease. He is a ‘rising star' as noted by Blues & Rhythm magazine in the UK. Look for him to be making a big name for himself and his music soon.”
His first album, “Heartfelt,” was released on iTunes in 2011. He is working on another called “February Extended.”
“February has a lot of good things - Black History Month, Mardi Gras, President's Day, Valentine's Day,” Singleton said. “And it's the shortest month of the year. So in other words, February gets the short end of the stick, but it has a lot of fun, love and history in it.
“I have a lot of fun, love and history in me, and I've felt like I've gotten the short end of the stick a whole lot of times, but I'm extending my life through music. If I hadn't stepped out and done this, I don't know what I would be doing. I might be running up and down the street backwards,” he laughed.
Singleton's life proves that you can be given a gift, but without a willingness to work hard to improve it, it can be wasted.
“I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist because that sounds too far fetched to me," he said. "I would say that I am a working musician, and that I'm a determined person. I have no idea where learning ends. The more I learn, the more I understand that I need to learn.
“It's a hustle and a grind all the time,” he said. “My cousin used to tell me when I was playing ball, that we are going to start it right, middle it right, and end it right. That's how I take this approach to music.
“I never was allowed to quit with music or basketball. Even to this day, it never even crosses my mind to quit. It's in my heart. It's in my soul. My uncles gave me that confidence. I never knew how significant it was until later.”