Sade As My Muse04 / 27 / 2019
Last month I started posting pictures from my latest photo shoot. Within a week, I’d heard at least 5 comparisons to the singer Sade. Although it was unintentional, I could totally see it!
Soon after that, I started seeing Sade’s picture everywhere on social media. I figured it deserved some more exploration.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with Sade. Her “Stronger Than Pride” album stayed on repeat in my house during my childhood. When my Mom loves an album, trust me, you’ll know. So my first response to Sade’s music was generally, “Ugh! Mooooom, do you have to play it agaiiiiin?” 🙄
It was about 15-20 years later when I actually started to appreciate Sade. The vibrant rhythms, poignant lyrics and the smooth softness of her voice… It is really beautiful music when you listen without “Ugh! Mooom!” ears. So I take Sade comparisons as a huge compliment.
I recently binge watched some of her music videos and live performances on YouTube and was absolutely mesmerized. I was so inspired by how effortlessly sensual and sexy she was without being overtly sexual. As she sashayed across the stage in that stunning pink bedazzled gown in the “Live from San Diego show, she was femininity personified.. No pyrotechnics or fancy choreography necessary – but the essence of who she was was MORE than enough.
The light bulb went off for me. THAT’S the direction I’d like to go in as a singer and performer.
The timing of Sade showing up as a muse for me was pretty interesting, because I’ve recently started studying with my main voice teacher again. At our first lesson in a few years, she repeated a lot of what she said to me the last time I saw her. “Cindy, you’re not a 500 pound alto. You don’t have to push for more volume. This is loud enough.”
And then came the waterworks. I wanted to believe her.. I really did. I preach this to my softer-voiced singing students all the time. But on a deep level, I have not believed that my voice was enough.
This wasn’t a problem during my childhood. I was pretty confident in my voice back then. I got solos in the church choir, was cast as Annie in the 4th grade play, sang in Mrs. Scheifer’s dance show in the 7th grade, was in everybody’s choir and musical theater production in high school. I was good and I knew it. You couldn’t tell me nothing!
I’m guessing it was college when I started to have doubts about my voice. I’d never heard big belty voices like I heard in the churches of North Carolina. The thunderous applause and praise those voices garnered was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Sure, people clapped for me when I sang, but it wasn’t like that. That’s probably when I really started pushing my voice beyond where it naturally wanted to go.
My insecurities were heightened every time I was in a live performance situation and the band overpowered me. Instead of having the sound guy turn my mic up, or having the loud instruments turn their volume down, I was encouraged to “just belt it out.” And at the end of the night my throat would be on fire. As a voice teacher, I knew that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Taking voice lessons, over the past several years, I’ve learned how to do a lot more with my voice than ever before. I can belt higher and mix higher and I’ve finally grown into these vocally ambitious songs I’ve written. But I could study voice for the next 20 years, and would never be able to belt as loudly as Jennifer Holiday, Tasha Cobbs, or Whitney Houston in her prime. That’s just not my voice type.
As I started gaining all of these recent comparisons to Sade, I thought.. Maybe she’s not just a visual inspiration for me.. Perhaps she’s also a vocal muse. Sade’s voice is smooth and light and ENOUGH. She stays in her lane. And she’s a fucking ICON.
So although I could struggle to try to be an Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson or Fantasia… It feels so much better to stay in MY vocal lane, and draw inspiration from singers like Sade, Tamia and H.E.R. I’m done with striving to be louder and stronger. My voice is already more than enough.
I’m so grateful for Sade going against the grain and being herself. It gives me permission to be myself as well.
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