Though he has made a name for himself as a versatile actor, Terrence Howard's true preference for expression is music. "[With] acting I play somebody else's ideas of humanity," says Howard. "[With] music I get to express my own ideas as a human being." In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Howard discusses his love for music, his musical upbringing, memorable career moments, and his debut album, 2008's Shine Through It, among other topics.
Music has always been an important presence in Howard's life, particularly when he was growing up.
"My uncles played the guitar [and] the piano," says Howard. "My grandmother played the guitar. My mother sang. My great grandmother played the piano and sang. Music was always around the household."
Away from music, Terrence Howard the actor has landed big-screen roles in films such as Mr. Holland's Opus, The Best Man, Iron Man, and Crash. In 2005 he garnered his first Oscar nomination for Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of "Djay" in Hustle & Flow. But ask Howard about his most memorable career moments, and you might be surprised.
"It's being able to express ideas…with people like [record executive] Al Bell," says Howard. "To sit down with Bill Clinton and to have access to the most inspirational people in the world and to share and interchange seeds [and say,] 'This is what I've been growing in my garden.' And have them take some of my seeds, and [me] taking some of theirs."
Howard recently mixed his two professions by participating in This Is Memphis, a forthcoming documentary chronicling the rich history and impact of the music originating from the Memphis/Mississippi Delta region. The film features GRAMMY winners Kirk Whalum, Booker T. Washington and Mavis Staples, among others. Howards serves as the film's narrator, an experience he considers part of his ongoing music education.
"My involvement is more of an anthropological study, so to speak," he says. "It's to figure out what has influenced the music of Memphis and how the music of Memphis has influenced everything else around the world as a whole. Sitting here and speaking to Al Bell and him describing the conditions under which he wrote [the Staples Singers'] 'I'll Take You There,' a song that has influenced me my whole life and been such a pure part of my soul, I love that."
Howard shared the seeds of his own musical garden in 2008 when he released his debut album, Shine Through It. Ripe with elements of soul, funk, bossa nova, and jazz, Howard penned each of the 11 songs, in addition to playing guitar and producing the album. Howard's lyrical subject matter draws upon autobiographical experiences, including "No. 1 Fan," which he wrote for his children.
The results of Howard's foray into music were positive as Shine Through It resonated with listeners, reaching No. 31 on the Billboard 200. More importantly, Howard passed a personal "test" in sharing his music.
"I have my own philosophies," says Howard. "You can put them in prose and write them as a book, and somebody might catch a hold to it. But the real test of anything is to put it in another medium."