Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield, Photographs by Ricky Blanco
Sharon Rae North might as well have been named for the North Star that for centuries has been the beacon of guidance for travelers. After all, the jazz vocalist, songwriter, author, and professional has been a sure navigator as she’s consistently reinvented herself and embraced ever-renewing ambitions.
Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Sharon was drawn to music from an early age. “I would sit right next to the speaker and listen to those voices and notes and try to figure out how they did those things,” she remembers. After earning her Master’s degree at University of Akron, she went on to become TV reporter in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But after a few years, she grew tired of television.
So she took a job with a pharmaceutical company and moved to New York where she performed regularly, including at the famed Apollo Theatre. A few years later, she decided to move to Atlanta to be closer to family. Her father was suffering from diabetes, and had a leg amputated after complications. The disease eventually took his life. A few months later, Sharon sat in tears remembering him. She decided to write a children’s book.
My Brand New Leg was inspired by a conversation her father had with a little girl who asked him why he had only one leg. “I thought it was such a good experience for her to be able to ask and get an answer without anyone fussing at her,” Sharon says. “I’m very proud of that book.” It’s endorsed by the Amputee Coalition of America and is available on her website.
She steadily built a musical following in Atlanta while working at CNN, Morehouse School of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2007, she released “The Way You Make me Feel” produced by Vic Smiley, who’s worked with Gloria Gaynor, Lalah Hathaway and more.
But after nearly a decade in Atlanta, even with steady gigs and airplay, Sharon was ready for a change. It arrived in August of last year, with a job offer in Richmond as public information manager for the City’s Department of Public Works.
And although she returns regularly to Atlanta as well as Greensboro to perform, Sharon is looking forward. “You just don’t keep revolving in circles,” she says. “Life changes and you have to change with it. Sometimes the changes aren’t your doing, but you have to roll with the punches and be a survivor.”
But don’t expect any change in her passion for music. “Singing is who I am,” Sharon makes clear. “It’s like breathing or eating. I can separate myself from the jobs. But the singer is always there. There have been times when I had to be at work at 5 in the morning and I had a gig the night before and was up till 3. I don’t have a choice in the singing. It chose me.”
She’s hopeful about making her mark in the Richmond music scene and has taken the stage at Emilio’s. “I had to make sure I was up to speed on this job before I could sink my teeth in music,” she says.
Somewhere high above, where heaven issues directions to fate, the North Star is listening: Sharon Rae North is ready.