• 70°

Young Collins beats out love for music

Thirteen-year-old Cortland Collins, of Hazlehurst, got his firstdrum set at age 3, and his mother Vicky said the purchase waspurely out of a need for home preservation.

“We just bought the first drum set to save the furniture,” shesaid. “He was hitting the furniture with sticks.”

Now the boy plays on his father Steve’s 32-year-old 10-piecediscontinued Rogers drum kit, with a few additional pieces thefamily has added through the years.

“He didn’t even know I was a drummer when I gave it to him,”said Steve Collins. “That set has been on some roller coaster rideswith both of us.”

The younger Collins graduated to his father’s set when he puthis first set of drums up for auction. The little drummer decidedhe wanted the money to go to the children of the victims ofSeptember 11.

His father said the evolution of the boy’s career has been quitea surprise.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We meant for the drums thing tobe a kid thing, and it blew up. It’s a real blessing from God.”

And when the younger Collins is in “Cortland’s Kingdom,” as herefers to his drum set, he’s in his own world, according to hismother.

“This is second nature for him,” she said. “He can practice thenight before and just do this without thought.”

Whether he’s thinking or not, to watch Cortland Collins flip thesticks is to watch someone who loves what he does. The big smile onhis face shows that it’s not just a passing thing.

“It just interests me,” he said. “It’s my favorite hobby, and Ireally enjoy doing it.”

And by this point, the boy has followed the beat of his owndrums to the Apollo in Harlem, New York, as well as the TrumpetAwards, which honor musicians from over 185 countries.

“We got the feeling he was different years ago when we enteredhim in a contest at age 5, just to put him on stage and see wherehe stood against other musicians,” said Steve Collins. “The prizewas an all-expenses paid trip to the Apollo, and there were over150 contestants.”

Those contestants were not just children; they were all ages,and all different manner of musicians. And Cortland Collins drummedhis way into one of the most acclaimed theaters in American historyat the age of 5.

“They’re not sure, but we’ve been told he’s probably theyoungest musician to ever hit the stage at the Apollo,” said theelder Collins.

Cortland, who has been on radio talk shows from coast to coast,as well as in Jet magazine, can say that he’s already met morecelebrities in his 13 years than most people do in their lives.

“I’ve met Smokey Robinson and Eartha Kitt,” he said. “BryantGumbel, Marlon Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Tyra Banks and BBWynans.”

Most 13-year-olds don’t even really know who most of thosepeople are. Yet Cortland has his heroes, and the biggest ones arecompletely outside music.

“Steve Nash,” he said of the Phoenix Suns point guard. “Becauseone of my brother’s favorite players is Magic Johnson, and he wasSteve Nash’s idol, so it all makes a big circle.”

So it’s possible his 23-year-old brother Corey Collins ofOrlando, Fla., tops his list of heroes, too.

And basketball is becoming a predominant obsession in the mindof the prodigy, as it is in the mind of so many children hisage.

“He’s just a kid,” said Vicky Collins. “Basketball really is histhing. He probably would rather talk to you about basketball thandrums, but it’s because he actually has to practicebasketball.”

Cortland Collins said at this point he’s just looking tograduate from high school, then hopefully go on to school at theUniversity of Memphis. If that doesn’t work out, he says he wantsto attend Jackson State University, which plays on the very sameMississippi Veterans’ Memorial Stadium field where he himself wasthe featured soloist at the Battle of the Bands a few yearsago.

“They put his whole kit out there, on the 50-yardline,” saidSteve Collins. “He’s a headliner.”

And Cortland has proven not only to be a source of pride for hisfamily, but an inspiration to those around him as well.

“He’s inspired not only other drummers, but other musicians ofall descriptions,” said his father. “He’s proof that it pays to bethe best you can at all times, because God will accept nothing butyour best.”

And the soft-spoken Cortland who swings the big sticks has sageadvice for other kids who aspire to the same kind of greatness he’sfound.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you won’t make it,” he said. “Justkeep at what you’re doing, and do what you love.”