Bob Ahlander took singer Alex Boye out to lunch in January. As they were waiting to order, the Deseret Book music and film producer asked the British-born singer if he would consider recording a collection of patriotic songs for the LDS Church-owned label.
"He started tearing up," Ahlander said. Unbeknownst to him, Boye was scheduled to become an American citizen the next month, so the tears were joyful and proud.
In June, Deseret Book's Shadow Mountain Records released "Calling America," an EP of five songs with Boye's unmistakable voice expressing his devotion to his new country. The EP, on sale throughout the Deseret Book chain and other record and book stores, is a companion to a new documentary on Boye called "Frontman."
The 84-minute film, produced by Avalanche Studios, traces Boye's life from lead singer of British boy band Awesome all the way to where he is today: a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The success he has enjoyed validates Boye's controversial decision to leave Awesome near the height of its popularity, later settling in Utah, the home of the religion he chose to join as a teenager.
Boye was born in London's Tottenham Court neighborhood to a Nigerian mother in 1970. He never met his father, who remained in Nigeria, and he spent much of his youth in foster homes with Caucasian parents.
"Since I've been here, 10 years, I've had more opportunities than I had in Britain for the first 30 years," said Boye, 41. "I've enjoyed these freedoms, and I'm grateful."
Boye still gets emotional when he thinks about his naturalization ceremony, held on Feb. 22 George Washington's birthday inside the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's JeannÃ© Wagner Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.
He was one of 188 people from 58 countries taking the oath and becoming citizens of the United States. But he was the only new citizen asked to sing his feelings.
U.S. District Judge David Sam recognized Boye during the ceremony. "Mr. Boye, we are honored to have you here today," Sam said. "Would you like to come up here and sing the national anthem as a new U.S. citizen?"
Boye was taken aback by the request. He worried: If he got some of the words wrong, would the judge revoke his citizenship?
But he fell back on his skills as a performer, honed on stages all over the world. Beyond the LDS music scene, local theater fans might remember his stint in three popular productions of Rodgers Memorial Theatre's "The Civil War" in the early 2000s, despite having never acting before and then knowing little about the American war.
"I've sung the national anthem hundreds of times, but this time I did it as an American citizen," Boye said.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" isn't included on the new EP, but other songs that are meaningful to Boye as a new American are: "Amazing Grace," "America the Beautiful," the American folk song "Shenandoah" and "Make Them Hear You," from the Tony Award-winning musical "Ragtime."
The fifth song means the most to the singer. Titled "Calling America," it's a song he began writing on Sept. 11, 2001, two years after he visited America for the first time.
He wrote the first verse:
A better day is coming for mankind,
for a United States and peace of mind
The envy of a nation's dream may lead to strife
But what gives man the right to take another man's life?
When it came to the second verse, nothing Boye wrote seemed to fit. "I have sung so many variations over the years," he said, adding that he never felt satisfied with what seemed an imperfect song.
But on Feb. 22, when Boye became a citizen, he finally found the words that he felt but hadn't yet been able to express.
Let's raise our banners to the sky
A declaration of our lives
To fight for freedom's family
Defending truth and liberty
Help future children to be free
Remembering Martin Luther's dream
So I'm calling America to help me ease the pain
I'm calling America, so I can live again
To mark July Fourth, Boye was asked to be the host for the Stadium of Fire concert, the centerpiece of Provo's Freedom Festival. Which means that Alexander Babatunde Abayomi Boye will spend his first Fourth of July as an American citizen at home on a large stage, in an arena presiding over a celebration of freedom and destiny.
A distinctively American voice
Alex Boye's "Calling America" EP is available at Deseret Book and other Utah record and book stores.