Recording artist Sean Forbes inspired Northgate High School students Monday when the hip hop performer -- deaf since age 5 -- shared his story of refusing to give up his dream of working in the music industry. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Northgate's combined middle and high school choruses of over 100 voices assembled on steps leading to the stage in the auditorium this past Monday to sing a moving arrangement of the song most associated with John Lennon's message of peace and harmony, "Imagine," under the direction of choral director Kelly Winovich, with chorus member Sabrina Patak, a junior, signing the words to students.

The performance was a softly delivered contrast to the show that followed, as Sean Forbes, just by coincidence wearing a t-shirt with an image of John Lennon, launched into his concert, an hour-long set of rap-style songs infused with a strong dose of inspirational lyrics. Among them: "Being different can be tough" / "Don't let anybody hold you back" / "Follow your intuition and don't let anyone say 'facts are facts.' Don't let anyone say it."

And maybe the most important message of the show, "I hope we pave the way/for someone else some day."

What made these messages all the more impressive was the man who delivered them: Sean Forbes, deaf since age 5, now a nationally acclaimed musician and songwriter, fronting a small back-up band and three screens projecting his lyrics to the audience.

Facts are facts? "You're deaf, kid. No chance of making it in the world of music." Sean left no doubt that he never allowed anyone to say that to him, and following the musical portion of the program, he addressed the students, speaking and signing his life story, emphasizing the support he had from family and friends in following his dream to find his career in music. He included a sign language interpretation of the John Mayer song, "Waiting on the World to Change" as part of his address.

Born in Detroit in 1982, Forbes told how he grew up in a family of musicians, losing his hearing as a result of an illness. He said that a Christmas gift of a drum set that same year made a major impact on his life, as he worked to expand his skills, learning guitar and writing songs by the time he was 10.

Fast-forward to landing a record deal, writing over 50 songs and producing music videos, his "Let's Mambo" co-starring Oscar award-winning actress Marlee Matlin. It, along with "Don't Let Anything Hold You Back," the source of many of his inspirational phrases, may be found on-line simply by entering the song titles.

By the end of the show, the message had come through loud (very loud at times!) and clear, much to the appreciation of the audience who followed his story with rapt attention and rocked out with the band when they played.

Sophomore Emily Leung said, "This has been such an amazing experience. It is something that I will always cherish and remember. Sean Forbes is proof that if you never give up on your dreams, you will eventually achieve them."

Another sophomore, D.J. Powers, agreed, saying, "It is absolutely wonderful to have such an inspirational person come to our school."

Winovich, who arranged Forbes' appearance by contacting his agent to have the show presented at no cost to the school, said, "We were so fortunate to have Sean Forbes at Northgate. His message of hard work, dedication, and pursuing your dreams inspired our students."

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