Singing her heart out

Vocalist Sharon Lewis performs at the Tel Aviv Blues Festival.

Vocalist Sharon Lewis (photo credit: PR)
Vocalist Sharon Lewis
(photo credit: PR)
There is a time-honored universal tenet among artists – particularly of the jazz and blues persuasion – that one needs to pay one’s dues as a precondition of creation. Reading between the lines, singer Sharon Lewis has settled her obligatory bill, and then some.
“I’ve been through trials and tribulations,” says the Chicago-based singer, who will be here next week for gigs at branches of Mike’s Place across the country as part of this year’s Tel Aviv Blues Festival. “I’m due some change,” says Lewis with a wry laugh.
The festival will run from July 13 to 16, with Lewis putting in appearances, together with the SOBO blues band, at Mike’s Place outlets in Eilat, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Herzliya.
The 60something singer is now a seasoned professional, but she didn’t get her career up and running until she was some way past her first flush of youth. Then again, she had the foundations for her eventual day job firmly in place long beforehand.
“My first professional performance was in 1993. But I’ve been singing since I was three,” she notes. “I was 40 in 1993. I started late.”
It seems that Lewis’s domestic milieu was not conducive to her getting on a stage and strutting her stuff to the public.
“I grew up in a strictly religious home, and it wouldn’t have been on the cards for me to sing anything except for gospel music,” she explains. “And I got married very young. I had three children, and my children are 10 years apart. So I was busy for a good while raising children.”
A quick calculation indicates that Lewis would have been kept occupied playing mom for well over 20 years.
Even so, she was keen to keep her vocal chords in shape and endeavored to give them a decent airing whenever the opportunity presented itself, even if the audience was confined to ecclesiastical settings. Mind you, she did get some valuable professional training, too.
“I did a lot of stuff with my church choir, and I even did a recording with them. But I didn’t start in earnest until 1993,” she says.
It was a frustrating time for the three-time mom.
“I felt I had a talent I wanted to share with the world,” she recalls.
Eventually, however, Lewis felt it was time to downgrade her maternal role and found herself auditioning for a vocal role for which, she realized, she was eminently under-qualified.
“They wanted someone who could sing world music, which was something I knew very little about at the time,” she recounts.
Even so, the session was not a complete waste of time, as it brought her together with the guitarist who had been hired for the session, Steve Bramer.
Lewis says it has proven to be a fruitful and enduring confluence.
“We have known each other for a long time, although we stopped playing together for a while. But we got back together about a year ago, and that has culminated with the completion of a new CD that is still in the works – we’re putting the finishing touches to it – and should be out by the end of the summer,” she says.
Israeli blues fans will be able to hear some of the material from the upcoming release on Lewis’s tour here which, judging by the title, is something of a letting-it-all-hang-out exercise.
“It will be called Growing Ass Woman,” says Lewis with a chuckle. “I think it’s going to be a great CD.”
Getting a career up and running at the age of 40 is no mean feat and, when it comes to the arts, that can be a boon. Lewis says that despite the long years of frustration at not being able to get her gifts out there to a wider audience, she feels she brings a lot more to the musical fray than she would have been able to had she started out as a youngster.
“The blues is about life and the things that happen in life. I had a whole lot of life before I started singing professionally. I maybe didn’t sing as a profession back then, but I kept on living my life and went through trials and tribulations. My first CD grew out of that, on Delmark [record label], which has the song ‘Angel’ on it,” she says.
The said number alludes to some of the rough stuff Lewis has been through but ultimately tells an upbeat tale with a happy end. A YouTube video of Lewis performing “Angel” with the Luca Giordano band at a club in Belgium shows the 63-year-old native of Texas to be a blood-and-guts performing artist with a captivating blend of hard-earned street cred and a smile tailored to melt the hardest of hearts.
“‘Angel’ is an autobiographical account of my life in music,” Lewis explains. “It comes from my first CD, which is called The Real Deal.”
There is no doubting that Lewis is the real deal, too.
Twenty-three years on, after finally making it onto a stage on her own terms, Lewis is still belting out the blues from her heart and her guts.
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