When you were a child, your aunt named you “Sunshine” and empowered you with the phrase “remember your power.” Please tell the story about how this came about and the impact that the name and that statement had on you throughout your life.
My aunt has called me “Sunshine” for as long as I can remember. The name came in handy during undergrad at Shepherd University. With the exception of my basketball team mates, I had very few friends. I was a bit lonely. Sometimes my aunt would call and remind me of my name; her advice, “remember your power”, encouraged my involvement in campus organizations. I began producing creative events that addressed local, social concerns. For example, after learning about meager financial aid opportunities available for international students, I organized a series of parties called Irie Time to raise money for the men’s soccer team (international students comprised seventy percent of the team). When the NAACP called for the resignation of the College’s president, racial tension on campus began to mount. I organized a fashion show that united black, white, and international students. The President of the college event showed up. He spoke to the sold-out audience. By calling me “Sunshine” and telling me to remember my power, my aunt helped me to discover ways of addressing social concerns through the arts. The experiences had a profound impact on my interest in DIY movements and social philanthropy.
Many singers and songwriters began their musical journey as children. You didn’t start singing until your junior year in college. So, as you were in college and pursuing a degree to apply towards another career, the music reared it’s head. What awakened the music in you?
Exposure to music production software through a Communications course significantly impacted my interest in music. Learning how to create music to accompany the lyrics in my aged poetry books was like getting a driver’s license and a very fast car at the same time. Exhilarating! All I wanted to do was make music and write songs. I would go to the Communications lab just a few minutes before the student lab attendee was scheduled to finish working, tell the attendee to lock me in, then I would stay there all night. I would go to class in the morning, study hall and basketball practice in the afternoon, then spend all night making music in the lab.
From there, I began performing around campus. I met a drummer, Danny Tait, who asked if I had ever worked with live musicians. I had not, but I was curious about how my songs would sound when played with other musicians. One night, Danny and I snuck into the music department’s rehearsal hall. I sang and played two or three songs on piano while he recorded on his walkman (HA!). Danny said he would let one of his friends, upright bassist Matt Lewis, hear the recordings and that he could not promise anything. Matt was, after all, in very high demand. A couple days later, Danny called. He said, “Matt wants to know when we’re going to rehearse.” At that point, I was completely shocked and stuck. Rehearsal?! I had no idea what I was doing. I had no musical background or training. Something told me to just give it a try. I’m glad I did, because my life was forever changed.
I feel truly blessed! Matt and Danny have always been superb musicians. I’m happy to feature them on the upcoming album on a song called “Ready for the World (Danny’s Song)”.
You are also a self-trained vocalist. How did you train yourself?
I began by studying singers I liked – Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Lauryn Hill, Seal, Sade, Barbra Streisand, Habib Koite, and Miriam Makeba. Pat Metheny’s music is a constant source of inspiration. He does not sing, I always hear lyrics in his music. Presently, I study with a vocal clinician named Teapot. She helps me explore my voice as one would explore a deserted island. We always find hidden, burried treasure.
You said you feel you are walking a path that was designed for you. How so?
When I decided what and who I wanted to be, I began working diligently toward that purpose. Working with a sense of purpose turns all obstacles into opportunities. The pursuit of those opportunities makes the world feel wide open and full of possibility. It is sort of like standing at the edge of a dense forest but knowing exactly, instinctively, how to navigate to the other side.
“Every song is a thought with an intention – a higher purpose.” Tell our readers about this philosophy of yours.
I want to deliver memorable, sensory experiences that people will share and treasure. When writing, I work to pull beautiful stories from the morass of struggle, or perhaps a vibrant love story can emerge from a moment of lonely reflection. Each song is a museum exhibit; the lyrics, the artwork therein.
What is most important to you as an artist as you continue this journey?
John Malachi (Jazz pianist) was my grandfather. His legacy represents the highest standard of musicianship, humility, and authenticity. Most important to me is forging ahead with those principles firmly in grasp.
You are very excited about the school fund project. Tell us about that project and why you have so much passion towards it.
The project is an initiative called the I Am Campaign. This partnership with The School Fund, an education nonprofit, will use my next music video as a means of educating students in developing countries. Our focus is East Africa. What makes this video so special is that, for every view it receives, one hour of class time will be donated to students in East Africa, courtesy of The School Fund’s corporate sponsors. Our goal is to provide 10,000 class hours per month for six months. This partnership makes it easy for people to change the world while getting something they love, good music. We’re really excited about the campaign and the support it’s getting from the corporate community! Speaking of which, check out coverage on the following outlets:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s website
The Huffington Post
Also, here is a blog post I wrote for the Chamber
The project goes live on December 6 at the Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center’s Citizens Awards, held at the Ronald Reagan Building. Think the Grammys, except the nominees are Google, Merck, Hilton, etc.
Advice for young people who may want to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t follow my footsteps. Chart your own course. Life is a beautiful journey. I believe we each have the power to choose our destination. My advice to anyone looking to maximize their life is to decide what you want out of it, then endeavor to greatness. Never give up. Always move onward and upward.
“Be excellent with a purpose.” That’s you. There is a dash in people’s lifetimes: born 19XX – died 20XX. What are you creating to put in the “-“? What will people say about you when you’re gone? What will you have left for those to come?
When I’m gone, I want people to say that I was a personal influence, a global presence, and a universal force for good. I want people to see the world differently after hearing my music. I want to have set a new standard for social entrepreneurship within the creative community.