His father was a pastor who insisted his son sing in the church choir — but Philly native Eric Wortham II had other plans.
“I didn’t want to sing. In fact, I knew I couldn’t really sing. But from a really young age I knew I wanted to play the piano,” Wortham says.
“On one occasion when I was singing in the choir, I was young and very little so I was in the front row,” Wortham explains. “At one point I happened to glance over at the organ player, and what he was doing looked very intriguing. And his music very much altered the mood of the people. I locked in on that. So I think that’s how it all began.”
After studying the classics and jazz, Wortham eventually went on to attend the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia. “And after that,” he says, “the script just sort of wrote itself.”
Indeed, right out of high school Wortham was tapped to tour with Jill Scott, the platinum R&B artist he credits with giving him his start. Working as her musical director, he helped produce her debut album, “The Original Jill Scott from the Vault, Vol. 1,” and “The Light of the Sun.”
Wortham adds, “I’ve also been very fortunate to go from Jill Scott to Adele to Seal. Aside from their artistry, they are three amazing human beings.
“Everything I did I did straight out of high school,” he continues. “I was very good. I practiced a lot.
“I had a lot of praise and attention surrounding me. And I think what really worked is that I played with my heart. And so everyone I played with knew they could always count on me.”
Wortham debuted his own first album in 2003 but says that, looking back, it isn’t an album he thinks accurately defined him. However, he feels the music he’s learned to play over the years certainly does.
And each Friday during Black History Month, Black artists from Philadelphia have been celebrating “Voices of Hope.” As part of that celebration, Wortham’s jazz performance will take place on Friday, Feb. 19 on the virtual stage of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.
“I know for me I have a wonderful relationship with the piano. I think that’s the greatest gift I have,” he says. “So I believe that to be really happy with yourself you have to approach everything you do with all your heart and no fear. Truly, nothing just happens You have to work for it.”
Wortham, a classically trained pianist, composer, songwriter and producer, adds that it’s also important to immerse yourself in your craft. “Plus the high school I attended was very cutthroat and the curriculum very daunting. There were a lot of students trying to be number one. So one of the things I discovered when I went to try out for university, one of the things that was very apparent to me, was that I learned all that stuff years ago. So I wasn’t going to waste my money there.
“I can truthfully say I had great teachers at the Performing Art School. They taught me so much that I could go on to a wonderful career right out of school. So after that,I would say the rest of my training was really on the job,” Wortham concludes.