Growing up in a family of vocalists, Rich Trent didn’t always know he could sing.
“I sang for my girlfriend in high school, and she was like, ‘You actually have a good voice. Do you know that?'” the 27-year-old songwriter says. “I was like, ‘No, I actually don’t.’ Because everybody in my family thinks they’re Beyonce.”
If Trent had lingering doubts about his singing chops, let’s hope he’s cast them aside, because hundreds of Bandwidth readers have just named him the best D.C. entrant into NPR’s national Tiny Desk Contest.
Filmed in his Columbia Heights apartment, Trent’s submission, “Don’t Know/Cross,” won our regional competition in a landslide. The clip features just the singer, his soulful guitar playing and an original song about indecision in love.
“I never win anything,” the Georgetown University graduate tells me. He says the last time was during “some sort of casino night right after prom” at his Atlanta high school.
“I put my name in the drawing, and later that night, I found out that I won a PlayStation 4,” says Trent, who performs under the name Rich Daniel. A couple of weeks later, he won a spot to hang out on the field before a Braves game.
Since then, he says, “it’s just been a 10-year luck drought.” Until this week.
While studying international politics at Georgetown, Trent taught himself guitar, and performed occasionally on campus. At a 2010 concert, he delivered a silky performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” followed by Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”
“Marvin Gaye has been, arguably, the biggest musical influence on my life,” Trent says. “Him, Al Green and Sam Cooke.”
But Trent never made a career out of music. Since he graduated from Georgetown six years ago, he’s split his days between a job at an education nonprofit and a couple of part-time bands. Now he wants to focus on his creative side.
“I’m just about playing all the time,” he tells me, taking a break from busking in Dupont Circle. “I’ve kind of been half-assing it for a while now and I’m just tired of it.”
That’s why Trent is — oof, it hurts! — moving to New York. He left for Brooklyn this morning.
“When I’m traveling and situated in new environments, I write more,” Trent says. “The creative juices are always flowing when I’m in transit.” He hopes to record an EP while living up north.
But the singer plans to visit the D.C. region, where he still has friends and family. And he’ll be back to do a special project — to be announced — with WAMU 88.5’s Bandwidth.
“Hopefully,” Trent says, “this is just the beginning of a lot of good things to come.”