From the moment 5-year-old Tia Camble sang Whitney Houston's Greatest Love of All in front of her first audience at her preschool graduation, she knew she had something special to share with the world.
Fast-forward down a road dotted with struggle, self-realization, maturity, relationships and dedication and you find Camble, 28, singing under the stage name of Leeryck (pronounced lyric) with a newfound pride.
Camble, who is gay, says she struggled with the idea of masking her true self to make it further in the music business. She offers songs that reflect all of those experiences.
When she holds the release party for her locally produced album Saturday night at Whiskey Park North in Tampa, Camble's music will be a testament to her perseverance.
I'm living proof that everything isn't always what it seems.
When you heard me on the radio or seen me on TV, did I fit the expectations? Nah.
Oh well, that's alright with me.
My image makes you question my sexuality, but the curiosity makes you listen.
I see the look upon your face. You're trying to fit me into a category,
But I just don't fit it.
The lyrics from Conundrum, the album's title track, reflect Camble's journey of self-discovery.
She recalls how her managers would play the music for record executives and says that the labels would love her voice as soon as they heard her music.
"They would go crazy about my voice and love the way I wrote the music," Camble said. "Then they would show them my picture and then they would try and reconstruct me."
She says that people have gone as far as suggesting that she undergo reconstructive facial surgery in order to comply with the image they had in mind when they heard her music. She recalls being rejected because of her image, yet being confused about how mainstream record labels would always say that they were looking for something different and edgy.
At one point, Camble thought about compromising her image.
"I told myself that when I was on stage that I could be that person and when I'm by myself then I'll be myself," Camble said. "But I couldn't sell my soul and that's what it came down to."
Camble's support came from a community of local radio personalities, artists and fans. Yet before all of her followers, Camble found her support at home.
"I raised both of my children to be true to themselves and discover their own individual style," said Camble's mother, Donna Polite, who works in the Tampa Bay Times' circulation department.
"In Tia's case, this has become very important because of her lifestyle. Being gay, she has inspired people by her openness and honesty but especially through her music."
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Camble, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg and graduated from Lakewood High School, says that she was not always a songwriter but has always loved the power of words. She spent years composing poems that she would later put into book form.
It wasn't until a fellow artist discovered her poetry and told her that she had the knack for songwriting that she began transforming the poetry into songs.
Through the song transformation, Camble began to experience her personal transformation.
"I wasn't the most girly girl," said Camble, who now lives in Pinellas Park and works for GTE Federal Credit Union as a member relations advocate. "My mom used to tell me that I was the kid that went from one extreme to the next. The older I got, the more I realized that this is something I can't run away from. I was literally coming into myself."
Further clarity came when Camble saw a puzzling painting at an art show one day.
"It looked like a woman leaning forward or two people sitting forward sitting lap to lap."
The name of the painting, Conundrum, inspired her to go home and look up the word. She related to the definition.
"I decided that I was going to call my first album Conundrum because when you look at me, it's not what you expect. I am a conundrum."
She said that once she accepted who she was, she flourished as an artist who wants people to focus on her music and not her image.
"In my music, I don't use gender," Camble said. "I don't let you know if I'm talking to a female or imply that I am talking to a male. I sing it because I want my listeners to determine who they're relating it to. Let my music speak for you and don't let my sexuality be a hangup on whether you like my songs or not."
Camble hopes to leave an impression on the world through her music and her example. She calls herself the "R&B Anomaly" because she feels that she is a direct contradiction of what R&B should be.
On Saturday night, she will begin to discover if that contradiction can lead to success.
Jonathan Milton can be reached at [email protected]