Gregory Charles Royal (born October 10, 1961 in Greensboro, North Carolina) is an American musician, composer, author, and a judge on America's Hot Musician, as well as a plaintiff in a 2009 lawsuit against Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Prior to becoming a judge on America's Hot Musician, Royal, a jazz trombonist, enjoyed a long career with many top bands and shows. They include the Duke Ellington Orchestra (1989-1999),Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Slide Hampton and his World of Trombones and as onstage trombonist with the Broadway show Five Guys Named Moe (nominated for two Tony Awards) and Jelly's Last Jam. Royal also authored and acted in It's a Hardbop Life, the first play to feature an entire cast of jazz musicians, which debuted at the 2004 New York JVC Jazz Festival at the Producers Club Royal Theatre. Royal actually proferred the title of the theater to the owners during that festival. Royal has done major tours in Japan, Europe, Africa and China.
The son of biochemist and microbiologist husband and wife team Gladys W. Royal and George C. Royal, Royal, who is described by Slide Hampton as "one of the important guys on the horn", grew up in Washington, DC. He received his formal training on the trombone at age 11 in the DC Youth Orchestra Program while simultaneously playing in the bars and clubs of Washington with Roscoe Bowie's Message Band and Show. He also received principal trombone honors in the First American Festival of Youth Orchestras and was the youngest member (age 15) of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble that also included pianist Geri Allen. By age 15, Royal, a student at the Duke Ellington School of Arts with future trumpet star Wallace Roney, was already a seasoned professional. They were both mentored by Art Blakey bassist Lee Otis Mickey Bass who taught the jazz ensemble at the prestigious arts school.
As a 10th grader, Royal caught the attention of legendary drummer Art Blakey during Blakey's appearance at Blues Alley in Washington, DC. Blakey invited Royal to live with him in the summer of 1978 at his 45th Street Manhattan apartment and join his band The Jazz Messengers. Royal's association with Blakey was an indoctrination in the New York jazz scene and led to important engagements with the Collective Black Artist's (CBA) Ensemble.
Following engagements with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers at the Village Gate, Village Vanguard and a live radio show at Juniors in Philadelphia, Royal returned to Washington in 1978 to attend Howard University where he eventually earned a Master's degree in Jazz Studies. In 1979,at age 17, he recorded his debut album Dream Come True with pianist Geri Allen and Clarence Seay. Royal received honors from the Downbeat Magazine Student Recording Awards, wrote two compositions for two other Downbeat winners and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to study with Slide Hampton in 1982. Royal also received a football and track scholarship to the University of the District of Columbia. Following graduation, Royal taught high school music and played semi-pro football. Royal returned to New York in 1989 after being summoned by the Duke Ellington Orchestra to tour Japan. After leaving the Ellington Orchestra in 2000 Royal headed up a weekly engagement at Birdland in New York called the Art Blakey Jazz Messenger Revue 1 which was the impetus behind It's a Hardbop Life.
Royal has recorded as a sideman on several labels including Sony, Music Masters and Verve and has performed on The Arsenio Hall Show on FOX, the Tony Awards on CBS, the Today Show on NBC, and with the Ellington orchestra on PBS and the BBC and the Universal Pictures release Life starring Eddie Murphy. He also wrote and produced the Pick Up 6 Game Show and two pop songs and music videos, Trust the Love You See and Can't Let Love, for the Canadian group Ariel, which charted in Canada for over 20 weeks on RPM Hot 100 and aired on Much Music and the Video Jukebox Network.
His most definitive work to date, as a trombone soloist, can be heard on It's a Hardbop Life Soundtrack-GCR Music Co., Gregory Charles Royal Dream Come True-GCR Music Co (which is being re-issued on the Celeste label), Five Guys Named Moe Broadway Cast Album-Sony, Duke Ellington Orchestra Only God Can Make a Tree-Music Masters and The Howard University Jazz Ensemble Series- Mark Records.
Most recently, Royal has done important work as Artistic Director of American Youth Symphony in Washington, DC who is the producer of America's Hot Musician, the American Idol-like television program for instrumental musicians 2 which aired on Lifetime Real Women and has released a first season winner's recording with Canadian Idol finalist Sarah Loverock in October, 2009.
The release entitled The Dreamer, which was written by Royal, was certified Gold by the Canadian Recording Industry Association CRIA on November 4, 2009.
America's Hot Musician aired on Lifetime Real Women in July 2008 with Royal, National Symphony Orchestra Principal Second Violinist, Marissa Regni and nu-metal bassist, Talena Atfield as judges, hosted by comedian Vic Christian.
Royal appeared Off-Broadway in March 2012 in a new production he authored entitled God Doesn't Mean You Get To Live Forever as a Sunday evening engagement and previously appeared in 2011 in It's a Hardbop Life at the Producers Club in New York City in a Thursday night engagement with Marvel Comics Spider Woman Jolynn Carpenter.
In December 2012, Royal appeared in a re-mounting of God Doesn't Mean You Get To Live Forever at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York with American Idol and Rent star Frenchie Davis and legendary pastor Dr.James A. Forbes Jr..
Gregory Charles Royal has had feature articles in several publications including the Washington Post (October 6, 1991) and Los Angeles Times (February 11, 1997) is listed in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Leonard Feather, Oxford University Press 1999) and is chronicled in the book Art Blakey: Jazz Messenger (Leslie Gourse Schirmer Books, New York 2002).
Sarah Palin lawsuit:
Royal is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin failed to issue a proclamation, as required by Alaska law,honoring Juneteenth in 2007. Royal claims victory in the lawsuit even though it was dismissed on December 28, 2009 for lack of jurisdiction because Palin did in fact issue the proclamation before the dismissal. The court noted in its ruling that that the suit could continue as a state law claim.