University of Virginia graduate Brandon Rogers was well on his way to achieving an unusual career combination: medicine and musical stardom.
In March, Rogers, who was in his first year of residency at Riverside Brentwood Medical Center in Newport News, auditioned for the current season of “America’s Got Talent,” reportedly wowing judges Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Mel B and even the notoriously tough-to-impress producer Simon Cowell. Earlier this year, he had performed in Las Vegas with hit ’90s group Boyz II Men, who invited Rogers to join them onstage after seeing him cover a song on YouTube.
At the same time, Rogers, who graduated from UVA in 2009 with a degree in religious studies, was steadily building his career as a doctor. He graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2015, where he concentrated in family medicine.
Tragically, the world will not get to see what more Rogers could have accomplished in medicine or on stage. The 29-year-old doctor died after a car accident on June 10. He and several friends were driving to a family event in Maryland after Rogers sang the national anthem at a hospital graduation ceremony the day before. Police said the driver of the car fell asleep at the wheel and Rogers, who was in the front passenger seat, suffered severe injuries when the car struck a tree.
His death sparked an outpouring of support and tributes. Rogers’ friends at UVA said they will remember him not just for his extraordinary intelligence and talent, but also for his humility and compassion for others. Many recounted how, despite his passion for music, Rogers’ always felt that his true calling lay in medicine and lifting up those around him.
“He was such a wonderful supporter,” said Dr. Nicole Hyman, Rogers’ good friend and former UVA roommate. “Brandon was in medical school at the same time I was in pharmacy school, and he was always calling to remind me that we were going to make it through the toughest years of studying and graduate. To him, there was never any question of whether I would make it as a pharmacist or whether he would make it as a doctor. That’s just how it was going to be.”
One of his closest friends from UVA and medical school, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, said Rogers was the first person she met on Grounds, when both were in a peer advisory group for black students. He showed up again in her 400-person chemistry class; she edged down a row of about 10 students to sit next to him, and the rest, she said, was history.
“We were two peas in a pod,” Johnson said. “Brandon loved people and he was an incredible friend. He really defined ‘friend’ to me, in the truest sense of the word. He was an extension of family, and I considered him my brother.”
Over the past year, his friends watched Rogers steadily gain acclaim in the musical world. Sage Garner, a 2008 graduate who recruited Rogers to join the UVA a cappella group ReMix, said singing with Boyz II Men was a dream come true for Rogers. ReMix closed each of their concerts with a medley, and Rogers’ solo was a Boyz II Men song, “End of the Road.”
“He would get a standing ovation every time, without fail,” Garner said. “To see him go from singing a Boyz II Men cover to singing with Boyz II Men in Vegas was so exciting. He deserved to live that dream, and I am so glad he was able to experience that.”
“America’s Got Talent” producers noticed Rogers’ music videos online and encouraged him to audition. After his death, they issued a statement saying that they were “deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Dr. Brandon Rogers, who graced the ‘America’s Got Talent’ stage as a contestant.” The show, which began airing its 12th season May 30, has not said if it will still air Rogers’ audition video.
The members of Boyz II Men also expressed their condolences, honoring Rogers online as “just a really good person and a really good singer. … It hurts to know that the world will never have a chance to witness what his impact on the world could have been as a doctor and in the music world.”
At UVA, Rogers was involved with several different music groups, including ReMix, the Black Voices gospel choir and the student recording group Oluponya, now O-Records. His friends recalled how his parents, Danni and Carmelita Rogers, attended every show, and how his performances inspired others to join.
2011 graduate Nureya Monroe, also a member of Remix and Black Voices, remembered the first time she heard Rogers sing as a first-year student attending the Lighting of the Lawn.
“He had a solo, and it was just amazing,” she said. “His voice just blew me away, and I remember thinking that I had to try out for that group.”
He was, she said, extremely intelligent, a lot of fun, “just a really, really good guy.”
Johnson said he brought the same positive attitude to patients’ bedsides.
“He cared about his patients like they were his own family and friends,” she said. “He was a strong man of faith, and he cared for his patients with that same fierceness and love.”
His ability to balance those two passions – medicine and music – often left his friends in awe.
“Even with everything he had going on, he was always so humble and always wanting to encourage someone else and be there for someone else,” said Joselyn Spence, a 2006 UVA graduate who became friends with Rogers during his first year. “It was mind-blowing how he always made time for everyone.”
He reminded them, his friends said, of just how much they were all capable of.
“He was able to do both of those things and do them well and with a smile on his face, giving 100 percent to everything,” Monroe said. “It was amazing to watch, and just pushes you to think that there is nothing you can’t do.”