Sharon Rae North, ‘87
She’s got a prestigious media relations position with the city of Richmond, Va., and her award-winning journalism career included an exciting stint as news writer and fill-in anchor for CNN in Atlanta.
But for Sharon Rae North, that’s just a way to pay the bills. It’s jazz that gets her heart racing.
“My job is what I do, and I can switch careers anytime I get ready,” she says. “But a singer is what I am, and I can’t change that. I don’t sing because I love to sing, I sing because I just can’t not sing.”
North is a recording artist who released her second commercial CD titled “Gee Baby” in November, and she’s opened on stages nationwide for jazz greats such as Patti LaBelle, Joe Sample and Sonny Liston Smith. When the cast and crew for Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” planned a party to celebrate completing the film, they brought North and her jazz trio in to entertain.
Fascinated with music since childhood, North said her singing career started to take off while she was working in Atlanta, and she’s built a strong following in the Richmond metro area since moving there five years ago. She fulfilled a lifelong dream last spring – a gig as lead vocalist for the Central Virginia Jazz Orchestra. She also performs with the Jason Jenkins Jazz Quartet and a corporate band called Horizon.
Her first CD was produced by her boyfriend, Vic Smiley, an accomplished guitarist and producer in his own right; “Gee Baby was produced by Richmond-based 32 Bar Records.
North grew up in Youngstown, graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School and earned a BA in speech communications from YSU in 1987, working full-time as a clerk for the Youngstown Police Department through most of her college years. After that, she completed a master’s degree in mass media communications at the University of Akron, then worked in a succession of broadcasting jobs, including WYTV in Youngstown and TV stations in North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, New York and Atlanta.
As a CNN news writer and occasional anchor, North wrote for most of its affiliated networks, and when the Iraq War began her workload went from hectic to overwhelming. “I was working around the clock. I remember going out to the parking deck, sleeping for a few hours, then going back in to work another shift,” she said. “The money was great, but after a while I got burned out and decided there was more to life than those newsrooms.”
She landed her position as public information manager for Richmond’s Department of Public Works in 2008, where she is responsible for internal and external publications and media relations. “It’s quite a change for me, as a former reporter,” she said. “When the media comes a-callin’, I’m on the other side.”
North has one other accomplishment that even takes precedence over her musical career – a children’s book she wrote in memory of her father in 2003. Entitled My Brand New Leg, the book was underwritten by Ohio Willow Wood, a prosthetics manufacturer, and endorsed by the Amputee Coalition of America.
Her father died from complications of diabetes, and the book was based on a conversation he had with a little girl shortly after losing his legs. “It’s about acceptance. It teaches kids that it’s OK to ask about differences,” she said. “Of all the things I’ve done in my life, the book is the thing I’m most proud of.” The book and her CDs are available on North’s website, http://www.sharonraenorth.com.
(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Winter 2013.)