American a cappella with Filipino roots

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Trace Gaynor of The Filharmonic at USC’s Fisher Museum, flanked by Christina Quisumbing Ramilo’s beaded basketball hoop titled “Dreamtime”

Prospective crushes all over the country are about to get a glimpse of budding heartthrob Trace Gaynor, a senior at USC.  He comprises one-sixth of an a cappella boy band called The Filharmonic.

They don’t sound like that Philharmonic, nor do they perform music evocative of the country for which their band is named: the Philippines. They’re nice Filipino-American guys with amazing voices doing their own interpretations of that good ole unifying sound: hip-hop.

Gaynor and company are about to hit the road on a national tour after a star turn on NBC’s The Sing-Off last year. But before they do, they’re appearing tonight at the opening of a new show at USC’s Fisher Museum, Triumph of Philippine Art, which is how we found out about them.

Ernest Concepcion, “The Wrath of Gerana”, 2008.
Ernest Concepcion, “The Wrath of Gerana”, 2008. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Their music isn’t really Filipino, but their roots are, says Trace. Many Filipinos came to the US in the ’90s and their first exposure to American pop culture included a healthy dose of hip-hop.

Trace himself grew up in Chicago’s western suburbs; his Filipino grandmother was born in Hawaii, so he’s a thoroughly modern American infused with a variety of influences. “It’s funny being classified as Filipino, growing up with all these different cultures,” he says.

That basketball hoop behind him in the gallery where we met to chat, by the way? Its netting is made of beads – a perfect example, Trace said, of how worlds collide. “See, basketball is an American thing,” he said.