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UNT alumni and professor compose and perform in new hit film ‘Coming 2 America’

UNT alumni and professor compose and perform in new hit film ‘Coming 2 America’

UNT alumni and professor compose and perform in new hit film ‘Coming 2 America’
March 18
09:00 2021

Thirty-three years later, the beloved film “Coming to America” now has a sequel to continue the story of African monarch Akeem, played by Eddie Murphy.

“Coming 2 America” follows Akeem as he returns to America in search of his long-lost son and heir to his throne. The film features Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan, KiKi Layne, Shari Headley, Teyana Taylor, Wesley Snipes and James Earl Jones alongside Murphy. It was released March 5, 2021 and is currently the most-streamed film in a single weekend.

“I would describe it as a fun, feel-good, almost romantic comedy with elements of adventure,” UNT alumnus Jermaine Stegall said. “A kind of coming of age story as well. There’s a little bit of growing up that happens throughout the course of the film, which is important.”

Starting in August 2019, Stegall, 43, and now living in Los Angeles, CA, composed the score for the film, which took about a year and a half to complete. The score incorporated many of the different aspects of the film with elements of romance, action, adventure and comedy.

“The score is something I would describe as being very, very dynamic,” Stegall said. “And there’s a lot of cultural elements that kind of help us be grounded in Africa because this movie actually takes place in the fictional place of Zamunda, which would be a West African nation. We wanted the audience to feel a certain level of authenticity with the music.”

Stegall’s involvement with the film began when he heard about the project as he was getting reacquainted with the music department at Paramount Pictures, the studio which filmed and produced the movie.

“I started doing demos for it, based [on] the fact that they needed music on set to shoot the movie to,” Stegall said. “So once they decided that the demos were working for [the musical] sequences, it ended up being a situation where it was better to just hire me to just do the job.”

As the project continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, Stegall and the fellow musicians he worked with encountered the troubling task of recording their respective parts at home.

“This was kind of an interesting process because a lot of people have not recorded from home before,” said Lydia Rene, friend of Stegall and vocalist who worked on the film. “The singers were whittled down to about seven or eight of us and we had to be the choir that mimics a 30 [to] 40 [member] choir. There were tons of huge Dropbox folders filled with all the music, all the samples [and] how we’re supposed to set up our sessions.”

On the other hand, the orchestra featured in the film was able to record in the studio in October 2020, while socially distanced and wearing masks. When the orchestra recorded, the movie played in the background so they could line up their parts accurately. Another UNT talent, College of Music professor Scott Tixier, was a part of this orchestra, playing the violin.

“We went to the studio and we did two full days,” Tixier said. “From morning to 6 p.m. It’s always a feeling of deep excitement mixed with anxiety. You enter the studio with that duality in your stomach because don’t get to see the music until you are sitting down at your chair and they press record.”

Even after the score was finished, Stegall still had a feeling that there was more work to be done.

“Because we’ve been working on it for so long, it felt like there was always something that might come up,” he said. “I felt like there’s always a little bit more that I could have done. Because, you know, you spend so much time with them, they start to feel like they’re part of you.”

For Stegall, each movie in the series has marked momentous points in his career. When “Coming to America” came out in 1988, he began getting more serious in his path in music.

“I actually started playing saxophone in 1988,” Stegall said. “It later on led to my interest in jazz. That ultimately led me to the University of North Texas later down the line as a place that not only could I study composition but also have fun with the exposure to the jazz programs that they have there.”

Now the sequel, “Coming 2 America,” has allowed him to contribute to a series that has had cultural importance for his community.

“It’s a movie for the culture,” Stegall said. “I grew up with it as something that we all knew as a classic. So this one coming full circle just feels like this pinpoint in my life. I’m receiving phone calls and texts, emails, Instagram messages, LinkedIn [messages] from all kinds of people that I’ve met throughout my entire life.”

With the movie now streaming on Amazon Prime, Stegall has had the chance to watch the film in its entirety with his family at home.

“I mean it felt great [to see] at the end but at first, I had to turn the movie completely off,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t want to be intimidated by these iconic actors like Eddie Murphy and Aresnio Hall. But when it was there, it just felt like I can get used to this over a long period of time, super exciting. I felt honored to be a part of the whole thing.”

Stegall is currently working on a score for a supernatural thriller for Universal Studios. The film is planned to come out this fall.

“It’s going to be a complete 180 from not only ‘Coming 2 America,’ but the idea of comedy or romance or anything like that,” Stegall said. “It’s gonna be super scary and intense.”

Courtesy Coming 2 America

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Kelly Tran

Kelly Tran

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