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Carlton Pitts: Sound designer, technical director & singer

By Carolyn Males


If I were to list an occupation for Carlton Pitts, it would involve a lot of hyphens, so many it’s head spinning. On the professional side: Sound, set, and lighting designer-singer-composer-voice over artist-announcer-live streamer. On the spiritual side: minister-community activist-restaurant co-owner. And the personal: devoted husband to his wife, Crystal, and father to six-year-old Jace.

Today along with running these businesses, he is technical director for the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and SoundWaves. However, as Pitts tells it, the road to his current success wasn’t always smooth. In fact, it was two near-death experiences, the last one nine years ago, that brought him to a soul-searching self-reevaluation that changed his life.

[Q] What got you interested in the performing arts?
[Carlton Pitts] My father was in the military, so we lived in a lot of places like Germany and Panama before ending up at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. I saw my first play when I was six or seven. It was in a Gothic church in Wiesbaden. I don’t remember the name of the play, but it was about a little boy who found a troll and for every wish that the boy made, one of the freckles would fall off his face. It was completely in German, but I was captivated by the magic of theater. Then I saw the animated movie The Lion King. It was like stepping into a different world.

[Q] Did you do children’s theater?
[CP] No, I was too shy, but I liked to sing. When I was little my parents would stand me on top of the register counter at the PX at Christmastime. I’d have my little mic, and I’d do “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” And I’d perform for my family. Then when we were in Augusta and I was in ninth grade, my mother and I signed up with John Casablancas Acting and Modeling. I won some voice competitions (for one at Fort Gordon, I sang Santana’s “Maria, Maria”), and I did some improv and acting.

[Q] Did that spur you to study acting and singing in college?
[CP] My first love is music, and I wanted to pursue music at Armstrong State [in Savannah] but because of my full-time work schedule, the classes didn’t work out, so I chose to fall back on drama. But as soon as I stepped into the theater at Armstrong, one of my teachers asked me if I’d ever done sound before. When I said no, she said, “C’mon, let’s try it out.” I liked it. And that was the start of it. I realized I enjoyed making the magic happen. I graduated with a BA in set design with a specialization in sound design technology.

[Q] What does sound and lighting design entail?
[CP] For a concert, I set up the stage, and control the lights and the sound. Whether it’s the symphony, gospel, country, folk or rock, our job is to make everything fit that event.

A setup begins by showing musicians the space so they get a feel for the natural acoustics. Then we go over what equipment they want to use. (Some musicians bring their own.) I arrange the speakers, mics, and the monitors. Also, if I’m staging the event, I think about the theme and what we imagine it would look like. From there, I would balance out the mics, basically giving EQ (equalizing levels) to the vocals or the instruments. That way, we can perfect what type of sound should be heard. I make sure that the lead vocalist or anybody else can hear themselves. I make sure that the lighting fits the event, its theme, and each song.

[Q] But all this almost got derailed?
[CP] I used to be a party boy, drinking and drugging and hitting the karaoke bars in Savannah. Meanwhile I’d seen friends and family go through the same experience and not walk away from it; I overdosed two times. The first time I ended up in an emergency room. The second time I overdosed on campus and woke up in a jail cell. It was a bad time. It was just after I’d flown out to Hollywood for an American Idol competition, but I’d lost. And I was facing eviction. I hadn’t been smoking weed for two years, but then one of my buddies gave me some stuff.

I was lucky it had happened on campus. The officer came to me and said, “I’m known for locking people up. But as I interviewed people on campus, not a single person had a bad thing to say about you.” Afterwards I met with the dean, and he told me, “Here’s what we’re going to do. First, you’re on probation. Any trouble out of you, and you will be expelled.” But, he went on, “I want you to make a song about choices, and you’re going to perform this song in front of the faculty and officers.” I was three steps ahead of him. I’d already written a song “This is How He Built My Fire.” With my sister Kiah accompanying me on guitar, I sang it for them all and my mom. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

[Q] And your faith has sustained you and led you, along with your wife, Crystal, on some new paths.
[CP] My success has a lot to do with God. We believe in marketplace ministry, using our businesses to reach other people and teach people to help others. Our restaurant, Kim’s Café on Martin Luther King in Savannah, is definitely a neighborhood catalyst. Eventually we’re going to have after-school programs, credit repair classes and help with housing. We want to feed you not only physically but spiritually.

[Q] During the pandemic, I caught one of your live-streamed performances at SoundWaves and loved the variety of music.
[CP] I love singing and I love performing. If it has a positive message, I’ll sing it. When I prepare for a concert, I look at my audience and see who’s going to be there that night. If there’s a song I’ve been singing in my heart a couple of months prior to the performance that I’ve been working on, I’ll do it. The crazy part is I’ll get there and it ends up being the perfect song for the day.

[Q] Any plans for adding yet another hyphen to your resume?
[CP] I’d still like to do more voice-over work. I’m a big kid at heart. Me and my son are always watching cartoons and making weird voices. I’ve recently been thinking about doing the life of David, but set in a more futuristic setting as cartoon. Now I’m looking for an animator. I feel like the potential that God put in me is still untapped and I’m still excited to see what he’s going to do through me. LL


Have a special artistic talent? Step into LOCAL Life’s and the Hilton Head Island Office of Cultural Affairs’ monthly Creative Conversations spotlight. Go to culturehhi.org/portfolio/artist-of-the-month/ to apply.