It was Amateur Night, October 29, 2014, at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem and a nervous Milton Samms took the stage not knowing if he would be booed.
“I was like, ‘Oh Lord, please just let everything go OK,” he recalls.
He needn’t have worried. As soon as he belted out the first few notes of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” the crowd went wild.
Samms was crowned the winner that night in the competition that launched the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, H.E.R and Machine Gun Kelly, among others.
The experience was life-changing. “My whole community knew me after that. I wasn’t Milton anymore. I was the Apollo kid,” Samms says. “I started branding myself with cooking and singing and became the Singing Chef.”
The title was solidified when an impromptu performance for News 12 went viral on TikTok. Samms, a cook at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, was born and raised in Jamaica. His love of singing started at a young age.
“Both of my parents are pastors so I grew up singing in church,” he says. “I won a gold medal for singing at school and I’ve sung for the (former) prime minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson.”
After moving to New York in high school, Samms started working part-time as a cook, learning the ropes and cultivating his craft. He specializes in seafood boils, Jamaican and Italian cuisine. In addition to his work at St. Vincent’s, Samms does catering and hopes to open his own company, aptly named Singing Chef Catering.
“My motto is that I bring the food, fun and flavor,” he says. “A lot of people have told me I have to pick one, either food or music. But I said no, music and food go together because both come from the soul.”
On the weekends, you can find Samms working at a local karaoke restaurant, cooking and entertaining, mixing gospel and R&B.
“My dream is to have my own catering business, but I also want to open a recreational center for kids going through stuff,” he says.
“Somewhere (free) they could go after school.” The Singing Chef may be busy, but he remains humble and grateful for the work he pours passion into each day. “When you’re doing what you love, people see that,” he says.
Find Milton Samm’s music on streaming platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and Apple music.