His name is Darius Coleman.
And he’s wondering if you will let him sing for you.
This is how he introduced himself on a recent Thursday evening as he walked up to Clarissa Lawson in Rittenhouse Square.
She smiled and said yes.
He broke into his own smooth rendition of DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts,” with lyrics he added the night before.
The 27-year-old singer-songwriter is performing his own arrangements of popular songs on the streets of Philadelphia for his #SideWalkSerenades video series. He shares the videos on his Instagram, @dariuscoleman to his 12,300 followers at 7 p.m. every Sunday, and will continue to do so through the end of August.
“I never had anyone sing to me before,” said Lawson, 21, who was still smiling after Coleman finished his serenade. “It definitely cheered me up. He had cameras and we’re in a public space but I didn’t notice them because he’s so engaging and it was so personal.”
At Rittenhouse Square, a crew of three followed Coleman around: His brother Jahleel as well as Zaire Williams and Jessie Tucker maneuvered two cameras and one speaker to capture the serenades. As he sings, the cameras show Coleman in different angles. Despite the movements of the crew, the women Coleman serenaded were captivated by his smile, his impressive vocal runs, and his smooth dance moves.
Despite his public displays of artistry, Coleman used to be shy about singing. The Philly native and High School for the Creative and Performing Arts alum was a dance major when fellow student, now a Grammy-winning artist, Jazmine Sullivan encouraged him to pursue singing. “She was like, ‘Do you know you can sing?,’ ” he said.
Coleman always knew he could sing. But that was the first time he considered making music more than a hobby.
He came from a musical family. His father sang internationally in various bands such as The Houserockers during the 1970s and developed relationships with Motown’s Berry Gordy and Marvin Gaye. The elder Coleman even came close to becoming a member of the Temptations. In 1980, after realizing his calling was ministry, Coleman’s father moved back to Philadelphia and started the Freedom Christian Bible Fellowship in West Philadelphia, where young Coleman grew up singing in the choir.
“I just wasn’t in a place where I wanted people to know I could sing,” he said. “I was kind of shy with my voice.”
After graduating from high school, his eye for fashion led him to work as a personal shopper. But he knew he was meant to perform. When Coleman was laid off in 2012, he crossed the threshold of his former office building, thinking to himself, “This is the last time I’ll work for anybody.”
He started performing at the Walnut Room, as well as writing and recording in Philly’s renowned Sigma Sounds Studio. Though he began writing songs when he was 18, it took him two years at Sigma to perfect his songwriting skills. Soon after, Coleman was writing for homegrown talents, such as groups Good Girl and Brotherly Love.
But Coleman said he still faced what he called his “series of almosts.” He almost got signed. Almost got a publishing deal. Almost made it on The Voice, American Idol, and Sunday Best.
“I would be signed if I was willing to be someone I’m not,” said Coleman. “Darius still has to live with Darius.”
In 2015, he formed BiPolar Media, a songwriting collective, with WizGamb and Rico Da Producer. Together they built a catalog and ended up placing eight songs on Fox’s hit series Empire, including bouncy tracks “Dynasty,” “New New,” and “When Love Finds U.” He was writing for artists like Becky G and Jussie Smollett, and working with hit producer Timbaland.
But at Rittenhouse Square, he’s singing directly to his audience.
He walked up to a group of four young women on a bench. During his serenade, some blushed, primped their hair for the camera, or put him on their Snapchat. He ended with, “Now you have a story for all your friends about this random guy who came up to you and sang to you.”
“Yes! I’m going to say, ‘This fine man sang to me with his fine video crew,’ ” yelled Britain Blackshear, 21.
Coleman recalled a young woman who had lost her best friend, and after he serenaded her, she told him she “couldn’t have asked for a better pick-me-up. This literally made her day.”
“You never know what somebody is facing on a day-to-day basis,” said Coleman. “Literally, somebody singing to them could be the thing that changes their perspective about life. A gentle, kind word, smile, or, in this case, a serenade … could really mean a lot more to somebody than you even thought it could.”
He’ll be ending the serenade series with a surprise finale. Until then, Coleman said, “this is really about putting a smile on people’s faces and giving them something to remember.”