Sharon Rae North Will Finally Sing for Her Hometown at Jazz Fest
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Sharon Rae North’s upcoming appearance at the Youngstown Wine and Jazz Fest is more than just a homecoming for the singer.
It will be her first public concert in Youngstown.
It’s a bit hard to believe, but the Virginia-based jazz vocalist – a Mooney High and Youngstown State University graduate – has never performed for the public in her hometown.
She’ll be the opening act for Jazz Fest, which will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 9, at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. The jam-centric electro-jazz duo Four80East will headline the show.
The concert holds special meaning for North in other ways as well.
It takes place just days before the release of her upcoming album, “Silhouette,” and it will also mark her return to the stage after the pandemic shutdown and a bout with vocal polyps.
Because of the pandemic, North recorded the 10-song album at a Virginia studio in 2021. Her producers, Chris “Big Dog” Davis and Paul Brown, turned it into the final product at their studios.
The album was originally set for release last year, but North developed a problem with her voice that required medical attention.
“My doctor wouldn’t let me go back in the studio until April, so that held up recording,” North said during a phone interview from her northern Virginia home. She was also prohibited by her doctor from doing a show until July.
The Youngstown Amp concert will be her first show in years, and kicks off a midsummer string of dates.
North said her schedule is usually a lot busier this time of year, but it is slowly filling up.
Her vocal trouble started to emerge when she returned to the studio in January of 2021.
“Some things that should have been a piece of cake [to sing], I was struggling with,” she recalled, attributing it everything from COVID to the long layoff from performance to just getting older.
“But it never got easier and one day when I was talking to someone, my voice just dropped [to a whisper],” she said.
North had always taken care of her voice and regularly visited otorhinolaryngologists and voice therapists for maintenance. But because she had recently moved from her longtime home in Richmond, Va., to Fairfax County, near Washington, D.C., she had to seek out a new specialist.
She was diagnosed with a nodule on her vocal cord and sent to the Georgetown University Medical Center, where she found out that wasn’t the case.
“Turns out it was a pseudocyst, or a translucent polyp, on the side of a vocal cord,” she said. “It prevented the cords from vibrating together.”
By this time, North was experiencing severe hoarseness and vocal fatigue. She was prescribed vocal exercises.
Over time, and without surgery, she got her voice back.
North continues to see a vocal therapist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who specializes in helping singers with vocal cord injuries.
“It’s amazing what these therapists have done to bring my voice back,” she said.
The set list for the Youngstown concert will include a big helping of songs from the upcoming “Silhouette” album, augmented by others from her 2016 EP “Sincerely Yours” and a few widely known covers.
“I’m also doing one special song that will be dedicated to the audience,” North said, keeping the title of the song a secret for now.
Her band will have a strong Youngstown flavor.
“Because this show is in my hometown, I wanted to fully embrace that,” she said. “The majority of the band is from Youngstown.”
She handpicked a lineup that includes Billy Beck of Warren (keyboards), who is a member of The Ohio Players; Youngstown jazz guitarist Rick Ward, who also plays with the Ohio Players; Alonzo Smith (bass); Alex Hines (drums); Clarence Ross, saxophone; Larry Owens of Cleveland, on keys; and background vocalist Sharleen Riley of Cleveland.
Jeff Green, the Youngstown jazz musician and promoter who has long presented the Jazz in the Park series every summer at Wick Park, put together the lineup for Jazz Fest this year, working with JAC Management.
He had long known of North and always wanted to bring her to town, but a deal proved elusive until now.
“This year was a good fit because she was able to do it and we had the budget to bring her in,” Green said.
North’s smooth songbird style will provide an interesting contrast with the headliners, Four80West, he pointed out. Four80West is groove-based, fast-paced, electronic and instrumental.
“It will be a good show and a class show,” Green said.
North hopes to have copies of her upcoming album available for purchase at the Youngstown show.
The 42-minute release, “Silhouette,” includes 10 songs – seven of them originals penned by her producer, Davis, with lyrics by North.
Mahoning Valley residents might remember North from her days as an on-air reporter for WYTV-TV 33 in the early ’90s.
A 1980 graduate of Mooney High, North has a bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University and a master’s from the University of Akron.
She has had a career in journalism and public relations and is currently the chief communications officer for the Fairfax County department of public works and the environment.
Her 2016 release, “Sincerely Yours,” produced two songs that hit the Billboard Smooth Jazz Chart: “Lonely Nights” and “Sincerely Yours.”
North has one more project that will come to fruition this summer.
She has written and self-published a book, “Frantastically Frances,” that will be available for purchase on Amazon in a few weeks. It can also be preordered from her website, SharonRaenorth.com.
“It’s about my mom,” she said. “It’s a lot of things she says, sage advice that is funny and serious.”
North said it was her mother, who frequently sang at home when she was a child, that stirred her interest in music.
North published a children’s book, titled “My Brand New Leg,” about 15 years ago. The illustrated paperback is about a young girl who is questioned about her prosthetic leg and reveals how she has risen to its challenges.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.