Now, Avery Sunshine is the latest song stylist to bridge the gap between the sacred and secular worlds by recording music that has cultivated her a fan base in both mainstream music and among Gospel consumers.
A former member of the award-winning Wilmington/Chester Mass Choir, this Chester, Pennsylvania-bred singer said that she was initially torn musically and thought she would ultimately have to choose between singing soul and the music of her faith.
“Initially it was confusing because there was a pull from both sides, internally and externally,” she confessed to AlwaysAList.com, as we ate lunch at the M Blue Bar & Lounge in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Sunshine (real name: Denise White) said her feelings about choosing which genre to sing ultimately ended when a pastor used her R&B hit ‘Ugly Part of Me’ as the basis for a sermon he was preaching.
“A pastor used the song ‘Ugly’ as the subject matter for his sermon. That’s when I was like; I don’t have to figure out which lane to be in. Whatever these songs are that God gives us, I’m going to sing it. If it’s a song about my baby daddy, I’m going to sing it. If it’s a song about God, I’m going to sing it,” she expressed.
A former minister of music at the St. Paul AME Church in Atlanta, Sunshine made her professional debut in 2005 with a dance single called ‘Stalker’ that ended up becoming a hit in Japan. ‘Stalker’ was created with Dana Johnson, a guitarist, producer and songwriter who had previously worked with India.Arie. The two would go on to collaborate on Sunshine’s first full-length CD, a self-titled album released independently in 2010.
The “Avery*Sunshine” CD would introduce ‘Ugly Part of Me,’ as well as spawned singles like ‘All in My Head’ and ‘Pinin” and featured collaborations with jazz greats Roy Ayers and Christian McBride.
The debut CD allowed Sunshine to tour regularly, often performing with jazz superstars like Raul Midon and Gregory Porter or the who’s who of R&B’s finest. Additionally, the 39-year-old singer still gets called for Gospel collaborations, having recorded songs on new projects by both Anita Wilson and DeWayne Woods.
“Should I be like Aretha and Al Green and do a Gospel record? Or should a I just keep making this soul music—music that works at church and at the club and in the park? I’m honored to be able to do both,” she expressed.
Of the professional milestones Sunshine has had since her solo CD hit in 2010, opening for Blues icon B.B. King at Royal Albert Hall in London tops them all.
“They had no idea who I am. There is a Rhodes [piano] on the stage and a seat for me and a chair for Dana. I feel like you could hear our footsteps on the stage when we walked on and they were like ‘who in the hell is this?’ By the end of the set, someone took a panoramic view of the venue and it looked like little fireflies because everyone had their phone out tweeting and talking about our show. It was amazing,” she recalled.
Earlier this year, Sunshine dropped her sophomore opus, “The SunRoom” via Shanachie Entertainment. Led by the single ‘Call My Name,’ the CD is a collection of polished R&B gems and soulful tracks full of live instrumentation. The album concludes with a remake of the Gospel song originally recorded by Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Singers, ‘Safe In His Arms.’
Sunshine said her sophomore record aims to inspire people to listen to their intuition. So often, she feels, people confuse themselves by becoming who others want them to be.
“Believe that the thing that God has given you to do, believe that before you anything else on the outside,” she emphasized. “Listen to the voice on the inside; let that be louder than the voice on the outside.’The SunRoom’ is the manifestation of that for me. I had so many people telling me what my record should sound like, what I should look like, what I should be doing; but the moment I released that and decided, listen, I am going to trust that thing that’s in me, I was exactly who I was created to be.”
Despite being an independent artist, Sunshine has been able to record music with a sound quality that matches any major label release – something that was very important to her.
“To me, having a record with great music that sounds like crap is like when Bill Cosby said on that episode of ‘The Cosby Show,’ it’s ‘like serving some steak on a garbage can lid.’ It’s super important,” she offered.
Sunshine credits her collaborative partner Johnson for helping her thrive as an indie artist. “Truth be told, I just want to sing, but I’m grateful I have a partner that who gets that it’s bigger than having a great record and get the other side of the business,” she concluded.
“The SunRoom” is in stores now.
VIDEO: Watch the music video for Sunshine’s single ‘Call My Name.’