Hemphill Kids to perform at 14th Street Playhouse

New York's "Showtime at the Apollo" can be a tough crowd, but The Hemphill Kids, a young Atlanta singing group, completely won them over with the Jackson Five classic "Who's Lovin You" during a 2006 appearance.

"Everybody was screaming and on their feet," says Anthony Hemphill, 16.

The memory still pumps up his younger brother Jimmy.

"It was ridiculous," he recalls.

Five brothers and sisters, ages 11 to 16, make up the close knit group.

They will perform Sunday at the 14th Street Playhouse in an animated musical titled, "The Coloring Book: Life Full of Color." The play is loosely based on the how the group started their singing career. As the story unfolds, an animated screen behind them sets the scene.

During down time before a recent rehearsal, the singing siblings improvised dance steps and shifted with ease from a cappella Motown sounds to modern-day tunes.

"We look at everybody, Michael Jackson, M.C. Hammer, Prince, Janet [Jackson], Chris Brown; and then make it our own style," says Jimmy, 13.

The Hemphill children hail from Chattanooga, Tenn., and made Atlanta home in 2005 under the legal guardianship of their manager, Bryan Johnson, a marketing veteran in the music industry. Back in Chattanooga, The Hemphills' parents are raising four younger children who could become singing sensations, too.

"Lots of people can sing," says Johnson, who homeschools the five children here in Atlanta. "When I first met them I wanted to see if they had that star quality. They were shy at first but I quickly saw what can they do."

In 2006, the group appeared on "America's Got Talent." But aside from the Apollo, the singing team says their greatest emotional highs come when they wow audiences at schools back in Chattanooga.

"The students are tough and don't think we're going to be good but then they are excited and clapping," says, Jaquesha, 16. "That's my favorite thing."


• Jacoby, 15, aka "Coby." Her siblings call the silky-voiced singer the "most serious" out of the bunch.

• Jaquesha, 16, aka "Quesha." The high-energy singer and dancer sometimes choreographs for the group.

• Janita, 11, aka "Nita." Her siblings say the youngest in the bunch has the greatest appetite. When it comes to singing she already has a Jennifer Holliday sound.

• Anthony, 16. The slim crooner has the makings of ladies man.

• Jimmy, 15. The family prankster's voice is a throwback to a young Michael Jackson.


• Backstory: The show is co-produced by Johnson and Andre Thompson, who owns the Art on 5 gallery in southwest Atlanta and says he's had a longtime desire to make art more interactive. Thompson enlisted Savannah College of Art and Design, The Art Institute of Atlanta and Atlanta InterContinental University to produce the animation for the show.

• Plot: Vanessa is alone when her parents leave town on the eve of her 16th birthday. She opens a gift from her grandmother. It's "The Coloring Book: Life Full of Color." The Hemphill Kids come to life as she reads the story.

• Cast: Other performers include Jamila Thompson, 16, who plays Vanessa. The actress and singer has appeared Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" and says she took up theater eight months ago. Lucky Collimore, 15, from Covington also performs in the musical.

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