Vocalist defies odds, takes music world by storm despite adversity

Limmie Pulliam is a shining example that anyone from anywhere can do anything.
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 9:13 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - In a word, “resilience” sums up the story of a Southeast Missouri native who has overcome adversity to live out his dreams on stage.

Limmie Pulliam is proof that anyone from anywhere can do anything.

Beginnings: A Passion for Music

The Kennett, Missouri native started his journey as a vocalist while still in school. There, he said he grew to love being on stage and performing. It was a place where he could be the truest version of himself.

Later in his high school career, he was introduced to opera by his choir director. Since then, his life has never been the same.

“That was a day that, as you can see, has changed my life and has taken me to places I never imagined,” Pulliam said.

However, his journey from Kennett to the top was far from easy.

A Dream, Forgotten

Though he has recently performed at Carnegie Hall and New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Pulliam has faced his fair share of adversity along the way. In fact, at one point, he quit music altogether for 12 years.

“I came up in the industry during a time where things were changing, and opera companies and directors were looking for more ‘realism’ on stage,” Pulliam said. “You know, (they essentially said) artists of size weren’t able to portray a believable character, which is nonsense.”

He was rejected time and time again. Eventually, it reached a breaking point.

“A lot of the rejection you would receive had nothing to do with your vocal talent. It’s the voice that draws people to the opera, to begin with. And these rejections had nothing to do with that. It was difficult and disheartening,” he said.

At a young age, he made a promise to himself that if his pursuits ever became unenjoyable, he would move on to new ventures. In the face of the body shaming he was experiencing, he said he knew he had reached that point and it was time to move on. He gave up on his dream.

The Start of his Ascent

During his time of self-rediscovery, he pursued different careers, but, ultimately, nothing stuck.

In 2007, though, a unique opportunity presented itself, and his life path began to veer in a new direction.

He was asked to join then-Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He agreed, and while working at a local event, he was asked to sing the national anthem. At that moment, his career as a vocalist was revitalized.

“They always say that life will eventually lead you back to where you’re supposed to be, and I’m a firm believer in that,” he said.

Pulliam said he noticed how strong his voice was, and decided to continue pursuing music as a career. Even after a break of more than a decade, he took the music world by storm.

Still, his ascent required a bit of luck.

Lucky Breaks and Destiny

After years of working his way back through the ranks, one day seems to stick out. In perhaps his defining moment, Pulliam made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Radamès in Verdi’s “Aida.” However, that moment was not originally part of the plan.

“I was there to be the understudy. Unfortunately for my colleague, but fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to step in and, unknowingly until after the performance, I became the first black singer to sing the role of Radamès at the Metropolitan Opera,” Pulliam recounted. “It was a feeling of walking into your destiny.”

Now, that destiny is his reality, as he lives out his dream that was once forgotten.

His story truly is one of resilience, courage, and determination to beat the odds and become a force that cannot be denied. None of it would have happened, though, without first enduring the hardships that he faced.

“It was during that time, where I was away from singing, that I was able to take the time to learn to love myself, no matter what someone else may think of me,” he said. “I am enough. My body size does not define me. My body size did not limit me. Whether it’s on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, or the stage of Carnegie Hall, I belong there.”

And for those out there struggling with their identity, Pulliam has advice from someone who’s been through the same and has come out on the other side confident and fulfilled.

“Be consistent, be persistent. And do the necessary work to perfect whatever your craft may be, to the best of your ability,” he said.

See for Yourself

To see just how powerful his voice is in person, there is a chance to see him in Northeast Arkansas. Pulliam will perform with the Delta Symphony Orchestra at the Fowler Center at Arkansas State University on Sunday, March 19. For more information, click here.