There is a certain power within utilizing one's voice to its fullest capacity. Whether using it to advocate for those in need, to sing or even to write, it is extremely precious to be able to use your voice for good. It is this spirit that called voice coach Denise Woods to change the lives of many through her work. From Cynthia Erivo in Harriet to Will Smith in Ali to Halle Berry in Bruised, Woods has helped Black Hollywood's most cherished stars deliver stunning performances that we've come to love and hold dear. In January of last year, she released her book The Power of Voice: A Guide to Making Yourself Heard which outlines her commitment to ensuring that those who have been disenfranchised are empowered to articulate their own stories for themselves.
EBONY caught up with Denise Woods to chat about finding strength in your own voice and how it can impact other.
EBONY: What did your journey of finding your own voice look like?
Denise Woods: The very first thing I recall in my story is that I was a painfully shy child. So with that shyness, comes a very quiet introverted child and I didn't speak a lot, only when I was directly spoken to. I did well in school but never raised my hand to talk. However, I had a vivid imagination which led me to become an actress. Mainly, it was within the Black church where I was forced to use my voice. It was the first stage that pushed me to break outside my comfort zone. Through singing in the choir, I discovered that I actually had a bit of a singing voice, and it became more comfortable for me to sing or speak in front of an audience. Later, I auditioned for the High School of Performing Arts in New York and my mother sent me to a really wonderful, specialized academic middle school prior to that. I also joined the New York City Opera at 11 as they needed angelic voices. That led me to ultimately audition for Juilliard at 17 and the rest is history. One thing led to another other which bolstered my self-esteem and then I started speaking a lot more.
How has your career helping people strengthen their voice helped you to find your own?
I found my voice when I realized that its was my gift. We've all been gifted with something special from God from the time we are born into this world. The unfortunate thing is people don't realize what their gifts are and how they can really impact others. I am fortunate enough to to be not just an empath but I also have this wonderful sixth sense, a spirit that guides me daily. What I have been gifted with has been a privilege a blessing to people and to my family because I innately know what I'm doing. It's deeper and richer than just being a voice teacher or a voice coach. I know that on some subliminal level that God has given me a gift of changing lives, and I welcome it.
You've had an opportunity to work with and show up for the most elite of Black Hollywood. What has been your experience encouraging these actors to tap into their voice for varying projects?
I've been fortunate to work with many people to give them the tools and techniques that they needed for a role and to help keep their voice healthy. Usually after completing the job, they went home along their merry way and I went mine. But then I worked with Taraji P Henson. She put me on the map. I worked with her on the film Hidden Figures and subsequently, she invited me to three other projects after that and then just to be with her on set. When I say that she introduced me to everybody, she really did. She was the "sista-girl" that would say, "Oh, do you know, Denise? I need you to meet Denise Woods." She just opened up her heart and her phone book to let the world know who Denise was. That's what sisters do. She was the first one to do that in my 15 years as a voice coach and it took my career to a whole other level. Every major talent that I have worked with, Black and white, I trace it all back to my relationship with Taraji P. Henson.
Taraji opened the door to Hollywood for me, then Mahershala Ali convinced me that I belong here and Halle Berry took me by the hand to propel me further. They all saw things that I hadn't even seen in myself. Again, it was the spirit sending me all of these guides so that I could see that God was leading me into a whole new season.
In light of Women's History Month, what are some tips for women to tap into their own literal voice and figurative voice to help them become powerful speakers and communicators.
You must be intentional. You must give yourself an intentional goal. When you set out in your day, even to order a cup of coffee, aspire to change the dynamic in someone's day and leave a person feeling better than they did before you walked in. Every time I go into the world, I use my voice to uplift. However, if you are in the boardroom or have a speech to give, the same thing holds true. You should want to leave your audience with more than just information. Anyone can use Google, right? You want someone to be impacted by what you say. How do you do that? Find your authentic voice, live in your authentic self and rid yourself of shame and the things that hold us back. When we live in our authentic selves, that's where our voices come through the boldest.
Secondly, we may have differences but no one knows Denise Woods better than Denise Woods. I am the authority on myself. You must be the authority on yourself. Come into spaces with intention but also know that you hold authority on the subjects you know best.
Lastly, know that you're a gift to your audience. Think of that blue Tiffany box with the white ribbon on it with a valuable piece of jewelry inside. When you receive that Tiffany box, before you even open it, you think "Oh my God, somebody loves me." You are that blue box. You are a gift to others.