Named after 1976 Miss World, Cindy Breakspeare of Jamaica, Syndee Winters seemed to be destined for stardom. She started singing along to the radio when she was young, then discovered dancing in her high school in Miami. A passion for choreography and putting performances together with friends followed, and she hasn’t stopped creating and entertaining since.
Winters says her childhood dream was to do what Michael Jackson did. “He danced, he sang, he choreographed, and I loved all of it. I watched him on TV and just wanted to do whatever it was he was doing,” says Winters. “I didn’t know at the time that it was a career or if I’d even be good at it.”
She got her first taste of performing during a five-week youth theatre program, where she earned a part in “Really, Rosie,” by Maurice Sendak and Carole King. She was hooked.
On June 1, 2012, she debuted on Broadway, as Nala in The Lion King. “I’ve been so blessed. Nala was my dream role,” says Winters, adding, “I wanted to play Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton since I first saw the show and I had the opportunity to do that for a year, too. I feel very fortunate.”
Throughout her career, she has danced, sung, and performed on stage and television (recently appearing in the season premiere of “Law and Order: SVU”). With such diverse talent, she’s reluctant to be defined but just one type of performance.
“Coming from an Asian-Caribbean background, people were always trying to put me in a box, figure out ‘what I was,’” explains Winters. “I never wanted to conform to labels, so when people ask me what I do for a living, I say I’m an entertainer or performer. Saying I’m an actor wouldn’t be true to all that I am, just like saying I’m a singer or dancer wouldn’t.”
When she comes to Geneva on June 8, she’ll present a culmination of her research, writing, acting and singing talents as the incomparable Lena Horne. Winters first recalls seeing Lena Horne as Glinda the Good Witch in the 1978 movie, “The Wiz.” In college, she thought it might be interesting to tell someone’s story and considered Horne as a possible subject. She turned a whimsical idea into a full-blown concept that has – so far – spanned five years. Winters set up crowdfunding for the project, and it surpassed her goal. “At that moment, I felt like I had the support of the public.”
Her project, “LENA: A Moment with a Lady” debuted at the Cutting Room Floor in New York City on March 24, 2014. (See the trailer online.)
She continues to learn about Horne. “She lived 92 years and I’ve only known her five. The more I learn, the more I want to tell her story,” says Winters. “Sometimes I’ll meet people who knew her, played with her, and they share stories I wouldn’t learn otherwise.”
While Winters continues to perform in various roles around the country, she always comes back to Horne. “It’s always in my mind, a part of me. Whenever I have free time, it’s a priority,” she says.
Her favorite part of Horne’s story is when she starts delving into civil rights activism.
“People from my generation, I want them to remember who came before. Putting this together is really important to me,” she says.
Winters will present “LENA: A Moment with a Lady” at the Gearan Center for Performing Arts on Friday, June 8. Taking part in the Geneva Music Festival for the first time, she says she’s looking forward to “A beautiful summer’s day, the new energy and being able to share the story of Lena.” She’s also happy to have the opportunity to perform as herself, Syndee Winters and Suite Assembly, when she opens for T.S. Monk.
Learn more about Syndee Winters online. You can follow her @SyndeeWinters.