WATERTOWN — In the produce aisle at Russo’s on Sunday afternoon, a group of customers waited eagerly to hear the golden voice of Guilherme “Gilly” Assuncao.
Last Christmas season, Assuncao was a dishwasher and deli worker at the Watertown market, when he broke into song while doing a soundcheck the night before a holiday concert there — and stopped shoppers in their tracks.
Videos of him singing that evening at Russo’s went viral and propelled him into the limelight — and into Berklee College of Music.
“I never expected any of this to happen,” said Assuncao said Sunday. “It’s emotional in a way that’s hard to explain. It’s just amazing and makes me really happy.”
Raised in Brazil, Assuncao said he sang in the shower as a boy and loved belting out Whitney Houston songs. His voice deepened into a baritone, he said, but aside from joining a few bands when he got older, his performances were confined mainly to delighting audiences during karaoke.
But the breakthrough performance at Russo’s last year led him to an invitation to audition and be interviewed at Berklee in the spring. Assuncao began classes at Berklee in August.
Assuncao, who arrived in the US in 2015, was studying at the Computer Systems Institute when his musical talent was discovered. Though he hasn’t committed to a major at Berklee yet, he’s considering audio engineering and production.
Assuncao has raised enough to pay for one year of schooling at Berklee so far with the support of fans locally and across the country, and through a GoFundMe page. “This place changed my life last year,” Assuncao said. “It’s amazing to be back to do this, and it’s amazing to see how many people came to see, too.”
Customers approached the singer in between songs Sunday afternoon and asked Assuncao to autograph his Christmas CD, which was on sale at the store to raise money for school.
“Gilly is definitely an exceptional artist,” said Olga Lisovskaya, a soprano, who sang with Assuncao during last year’s holiday concert and performed again with him at Russo’s on Sunday. “His voice comes straight from his soul and goes straight to your heart.”
He joined Lisovskaya and two other singers in renditions of holiday classics such as “Deck the Halls” while he sang others, including “O Come O Come, Emmanuel,” solo.
Shoppers again stopped, filmed, and sang along. Many had come to the store that morning for his performance.
“We knew his life was going to change,” said Tony Russo, the market’s owner. “From that moment that he started to sing. It was just a beautiful moment. He’s a great talent and a great personality.”
What he is learning at Berklee is challenging, Assuncao said, but well worth it.
“Whatever comes, if it’s with music I’ll be happy,” he said.