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Natural Awakenings Tucson

A Star is Born in Tucson: Q&A with Sheryl Ann Starlight

Sep 30, 2021 10:00AM ● By Suzie Agrillo
Sheryl Ann Starlight

Sheryl Ann Starlight Photo by Niccole Radhe

The best singers can convey emotion through their songs, and truly connect with audiences. Sheryl Ann Starlight’s mellifluous voice exudes a grace, a passion and a confidence which resonates with her listeners. She’s got talent, and she’s a force to be reckoned with when she sings. Her affinity for pairing rich textures with classic songs as well as her charismatic persona rival the iconic Diana Krall.
Starlight’s success is also attributable to her comfort onstage and chemistry with her band members. At a recent performance at Westward Look Resort, she featured a special guest, virtuoso trumpeter Jason Carder, who travels with Yanni’s band, and is an assistant trumpet professor at the University of Arizona. During the show, Starlight effortlessly segued from various genres, including traditional, pop, jazz and blues melodies, inspiring some people in the audience to get out of their seats and dance in the aisles.
While her singing career is the second act in her life, Starlight consistently gives people an experience to remember, with her vocal energy and innovative song repertoire. It is obvious she loves what she does, she’s dreaming big and she’s reaching for the stars.
What first got you into music?

Both of my parents influenced me by playing music in our home while I was growing up. My father is an accomplished, self-taught, legally blind guitar player, and he loves the blues. So the blues lives deep down in my soul. In addition, it was a seventh-grade teacher that had mandatory choir auditions. She heard something in my voice and recruited me for her choir. She said something special was there.
It was odd to me that I could just sing. I struggled with being given a gift and I hid it a lot. I had a difficult time accepting I was given such a wonderful, soothing voice. I would attempt to use it, and for some inexplicable reason I never felt worthy or good enough.

Who inspired you to make music? 
My first biggest inspiration came from a glorious gentleman named JR Reynolds. I had the honor of meeting him in 2010 when he was sitting in with a Latin jazz group. JR was a singer and entertainer all his life. To make a long, marvelous and magical story short, at the end of the night he asked me to call him the next day to schedule a time to come over and sing for him and his wife Vicky. I did, and in a nutshell, he told me singing was what I was born to do.
My mother Shirley Ann could see better than most—just not with her eyes. She was totally blind since age 12. She took flight from this earth from brain cancer November 7, 2012, far too soon. After leaving my job to help take care of her, I was back at my job. A co-worker named Victoria was announcing to me that my mother was visiting from the other side, and she indeed had a message for me. Basically, I was given the message, “I know about the bee… get busy and do your music. I’m out of the way now.” I’ve never been the same since that message. It may sound cheesy, but my mother is truly the wind beneath my wings. I push on to give my music even when it’s hard, and my Shirley Ann lives in my heart.
Finally, my audiences continually inspire me to make music. Their energy, presence and support are truly the greatest of gifts. They are the fuel, and the exchange of energy is as beautiful as music itself. My audiences give me the courage and strength to use my divinely given voice.

How would you describe the music you typically perform?
I perform jazz, the Great American Songbook, torch songs and a bit of blues. I began with the Great American Songbook and jazz, which I dearly love, and I’m committed to. Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics, but lately I’ve been branching out more. I perform Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, the Carpenters and Burt Bacharach, to name a few. I’m always expanding my repertoire.
I’m looking for messages the world needs. I love songs with strong, positive or powerful messages. I throw my whole being into the message of a song. I essentially act out the song. I become the lyrics. I strive to evoke thought and feeling, and to bring people together to unite in the message of each song I perform.
There’s often a healing that takes place for me, and I’m hoping with all I have that a healing of some kind is happening for others too. That is my heartfelt intention. To me a song is like a painting; what I see or feel, you may not see or feel, but you are affected, nonetheless.

Can you tell us about your band?
I surround myself with some of the best of the best musicians here in Tucson. I strive to get my first call favorites and I’m loyal to the core to them. The masterful lineup is Rob Resetar on piano, Jack Wood on bass, Max Goldschmid on the horns extraordinaire—and anything else he might want to play since he is gifted on so many instruments.
When I’m able, lucky and blessed enough, I add the one and only phenomenal, force of musical nature, master trumpet player Jason Carder. Jason is an energy factory, and he is musical inspiration personified.

What is one message you would give your fans?
I would tell them that their energy and presence is far stronger than they know.
They are on stage with me in my heart. The connection I feel on an energetic level is powerful and transformative. That connection inspires me to no end.

What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?
There’s no other option for me than to try to find all the right ways to use the gift of my voice for the greater good and for the good of music. I’ve handed myself over to my mission, my purpose.

Where have you performed? What are your favorite venues?
I’ve performed at the Viscount Suites Hotel, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Armory Park, Saddlebrooke, Sun City, Tohono Chul, Caffe Torino in the Foothills, Sheraton Tucson Hotel & Suites, Starr Pass Resort, St. Phillips Plaza, Westward Look Resort, Ventana Canyon Resort, countless retirement communities and private parties. My favorite place to perform is out in nature at an outdoor venue. There is nothing quite like the power of nature and the power of live music coming together for me.

Do you have any CDs?
My first CD, Sheryl Ann Starlight – Invitation, was financed by a true patron of the arts and came out in April of 2019. It’s a 17-song pure labor of love project recorded at Allusion Studios.

Do you have any upcoming events?
 Here’s what I know is coming up: Live Musical Concerts at Westward Look Grand Wyndham Resort, the first and third Thursday of every month from 5 to 7 p.m. Always a new concert and reservations are a must. These concerts are brought to you by the Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance (SAACA).
Ventana Canyon Resort in the Cascade Lounge, October 22, and November 12 and 19, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Caffe Torino in the Foothills, October 3 and 24, 6 to 9 p.m.; Oro Valley Marketplace, December 9, 6 to 7:30 p.m., for A Jazzy Holiday Inspired Concert sponsored by SAACA & Matt Roland (free to the public).

Which famous musicians do you admire?
Eva Cassidy, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Joel, KD Lang, Carole King, Bonnie Raitt, Annie Lennox, Tom Petty, to name a few.

What is the best advice you’ve been given? 
Follow your heart and believe that forces unseen are watching and working on your behalf—even when things are hard.

What’s next for you?
Finding the way to use my voice to serve in full capacity. I want to continue to heal myself with music while I offer healing, thought, feeling and beauty to others. Music brings us all together no matter our age or life circumstances. To me, music is an ultimate healer, and I believe that it is needed now more than ever. Let’s raise each other up, help where we can, and make this world a better place. Do I think music can do it? Absolutely!

To connect with Sheryl, email [email protected] or find Sheryl Ann Mckinley on Facebook.

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection, and she enjoys reading all things true crime. Connect at [email protected].