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Issue 1084

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Avery Sunshine: Sunny Delight!

Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com
Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com Avery Sunshine @bluesandsoul.com

The latest - and arguably one of the most talented - artists to emerge from Atlanta, Georgiaâs thriving underground soul scene, acclaimed singer/songwriter/pianist Avery Sunshine this month releases her self-titled debut album through respected UK soul indie Dome Records.

Mostly co-written-and co-produced by Avery herself alongside musical partner BigDane (who also co-wrote/co-produced many of the songs on India.Aireâs 2002 Grammy-winning LP âVoyage To Indiaâ), âAvery Sunshineâ blends elements of soul, gospel and jazz naturally on tracks ranging from the smooth neo-soul groover âAll In My Headâ and slowly lilting âUgly Part Of Meâ to the brass-infused shuffler âBlessinâ Meâ. Meanwhile, the lilting âThe Mostâ and hypnotic interlude âEverybody Lovesâ both prestigiously feature legendary jazz-funk vibesman/vocalist (and Avery fan!) Roy Ayers.

Born Denise White in Chester, Pennsylvania 34 years ago, Averyâs early gospel roots are evident in her currently being choral director at two Atlanta churches. While past credits include working with Eighties soul/Broadway icon Jennifer Holiday as choral director for her touring production of âDream Girlsâ; singing on the soundtrack to the 2003 romantic comedy film âThe Fighting Temptationsâ, and even being featured vocalist (as Avery Johnson) on The Ananda Projectâs 2007 international dance/club anthem âStalk Youâ.

An upbeat and instantly-chatty Avery - whose happy disposition lives up to her surname! - enjoys a bubbly introductory chat with Pete Lewis to discuss her new album, plus her historic involvement in the soon-to-debut âI Dreamâ - the first-ever musical stage-play about the life of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Averyâs thoughts on her debut album musically

âA good friend of mine called it âjazz-go-soulâ! And I guess what she meant by that was that itâs none of those things alone, but a blend of all those things TOGETHER. Because clearly you can hear my gospel influence, in ADDITION to the jazz and the neo-soul. I mean, Iâm a choral director, Iâve been directing choirs for years - and so gospel is very much a part of who I AM! So, whatever type of music Iâm doing, that influence is gonna seep OUT! Though, having said that, when we started we didnât really have ANYTHING in mind. We just let the music happen organically - which I guess could have been a bit dangerous! Because, when you go on a trip without knowing where youâre going, you take the chance of either winding up in a desert or winding up in Heaven! And so I just pray that weâve ended up in Heaven!â

Her rare knack for communicating personally through her lyrics - something which has already led to comparisons with neo-soul icon Jill Scott

âThis may sound trite, but with this album I just wanted to be as real as I could possibly BE. So that, when it came time for me to perform the songs, nothing would be contrived. You know, I always wanna make sure my lyrics represent exactly who I AM! Like I wouldnât sing about, say, wars or rumours of wars. Because - though I am obviously concerned about the government - thatâs just not what I talk about on an everyday basis. Instead itâs more like âHey, today I had five dollars in my account and I had to get gas, I had to pick my kids up from school, and I had to FEED themâ!.. Or âI was having a great day, then when I walked outside the sun was shining and it just made me think of Godâ... You know, the subjects may sound a little crazy sometimes, but I just want people to feel ME! So that, when itâs time for my next show - after Iâve already done like 50 others - I donât have to be struggling to come up with this fake character! Because, if I DID have to do that, for me this whole thing would be meaningless. Iâm only comfortable onstage being who I AM!â

Averyâs early background

âWell, I grew up in the inner-city in Chester, Pennsylvania, which is right outside Philadelphia. You know, there was a corner-store and a church on every corner - and I guess Iâd say my parents were working-class. My father made toilet paper and paper towels; my mother was a beautician... And in the home music was ALWAYS present. My parents loved The Spinners, The Four Tops, Nina Simone⦠So I think it was when I was around eight years old that I first told my mom I wanted to play the piano. And, though at first she was like âOK, whateverâ, I just wouldnât let UP!... Then eventually she saw me sing âSilent Nightâ at a school function, noticed I had some talent - and so they got me a PIANO! And, by the time I was 13, I had my first GIG - playing at a Catholic church! I think the service was for an-hour-and-15-minutes, and for that I was getting paid $175! And, to be honest, I think thatâs what first got me hooked on MUSIC! You know, I was like âWOW! Are you KIDDING me?! Playing piano and singing a little bit, and making 175 BUCKS?!â!â

How she went on to her current full-time career as a church musician

âFrom that first gig at the Catholic church I went on to play at a black Baptist church, United Methodist church, African Methodist Episcopal Church⦠And then I also began singing with a choir called The Wilmington Chester Mass Choir. Which is the choir that propelled the artist Daryl Coley onto the gospel map. You know, they had some amazing songs, they had a couple of hits... So I sang with them through High School, and then I moved to Atlanta to go to Spelman College. Where, at 19/20 years old, I not only ended up SINGING in the choir, but getting a cheque for DIRECTING it! You know, I just could never get away from gospel music. Not that I ever really WANTED to, it was just something that was always PRESENT! There was just something so real and genuine about it that I was somehow always able to relate to - and still CAN. So, as I say, if you listen to my album - yeah, youâll hear the jazz and the soul... But at the core of what I am is always that gospel, that SPIRITUAL thing.â

Averyâs feelings on her involvement, and forthcoming appearance, in the history-making âI Dreamâ - the first-ever musical stage-play about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which has been described as âan inspirational and entertaining look at the Civil Rights icon from his childhood to his assassinationâ

âLast year I got a call from the Minister of Music at the Ebenezer Baptist Church here in Atlanta, where Iâm choir director and pianist. He was like âIâm doing this gig and I want you to come and sing this songâ. So I said âOK, no big dealâ⦠Then, about eight months later, the guy who actually WROTE the piece called me and was like âWeâre doing this opera-type thing for Martin Luther King. So I want you to fly to LA and sing some of the pieces that weâve doneâ. So again I said âAbsolutelyâ... But then, when I got there, to my surprise it turned out Chaka Khan was involved with it, and that Iâd be performing for her and like 30 of her friends! I mean, Greg Phillinganes, Nathan East, Bluey from Incognito were all there... And it also turned out that the pieces I was actually singing were the pieces that Chaka HERSELF would be performing in the musical!.. Anyway, I sang - and, when I finished, I actually got one of the most amazing complements EVER! Because Chaka jumped up, grabbed me and was like âI oughta bitch-slap you!â!.. And, though at first I didnât know whether to say âThank youâ or run, I ultimately realised that she had just give me a major complement that Iâll never FORGET! You know, itâs definitely one of the highlights of my career! And the musical itself is truly a masterpiece. So the fact Iâve now been offered a part in it (âI Dreamâ premiers in Atlanta on July 3 and runs until July 31) makes me feel very honoured.â

Averyâs album âAvery Sunshineâ is out now through Dome
Words PETE LEWIS

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