There is a lazy, easy groove to the soulful singing of Atlanta’s own Avery Sunshine, and if she sounds relaxed on her new self-titled CD, it might be because some of it was recorded under easygoing circumstances.
At home. With dinner on the stove.
One of the record’s signature tunes, “The Most,” was recorded while her mother was frying pork chops. “You can hear them in the background,” said the close-cropped singer with the huge smile.
At the time, she and her collaborator Dana Johnson, with whom she wrote all the songs on the record, were recording on a Mac laptop wherever they could grab a spare minute – at home, at the studio and at church.
“We’re good at taking an idea and keeping it as raw as possible,” said Johnson, a songwriter and guitarist who worked with India Arie on her Grammy-winning album “Voyage to India.” “We’d rather capture the emotion before it gets away, instead of work on some eloquence or fancy ways of saying things.”
Sunshine’s real name is Denise White, but that solar-powered smile and the warmth that radiates from tunes such as “Pinin’” and “All in My Head,” show that the stage moniker she’s chosen (from characters in two of her favorite movies) is an appropriate one.
The sun is rising on White right now. After landing a supporting role in the Alliance Theatre production of the musical “I Dream,” based on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., she’s getting a mini-tour ready to support her new CD, “Avery*Sunshine,” which reaches stores this month.
The tour and record should introduce a wider audience to the lustrous voice (with its deep Jill Scott shine) that is already familiar to Atlanta audiences.
A native of Chester, Penn., White, 35, relocated to Atlanta to attend Spelman College, where she majored in piano. She’d been planning on going to New York University but a cousin who was a Morehouse Man talked her into visiting South.
“I fell in love immediately,” she said, during a leisurely chat at the southwest Atlanta home she shares with her parents and two children.
The concentration of African-American students at the Atlanta University center was a revelation to her. “I’d always gone to predominantly white schools.”
All of a sudden, she was in her element.
But the classical music training that went with a piano major was another matter. She had been playing hymns in church since she was 13, but by the time she began preparing a Dohnanyi piece for her senior recital, she realized that the classical world was not her thing. “The other parts of me weren’t being fed,” she said.
White switched gears and graduated with a degree in philosophy instead, and began a two-sided musical career, writing pop tunes while serving as choral director and keyboardist at several Atlanta churches, including Ebenezer Baptist and Zion Hill Baptist. She still serves both churches.
Several years ago White and Johnson created a slow, neo-soul workout called “Stalker” that a friend, Chris Brann, set to a house beat and turned into a dance hit on a Japanese record label. That success, back around 2003, brought the singer to the top of Mt. Fuji during a couple of promotional visits to Japan, and to a sense that the “Avery Sunshine” side of her life might be ready to come out front.
The next step toward that goal is this month’s release of the new album on their own independent label, BigShine, with such guests as pianist Takana Miyamoto, famed vibraphone player Roy Ayers and jazz bassist Christian McBride.
As White played a few cuts from the record on her laptop, one could hear her mother, Ruth once again cooking up something in the kitchen. As the daughter ad libbed some gospel lyrics, her father Irving joined in from the other room.
Her parents moved down from Pennsylvania this year to combine forces with their daughter, to help with her children, Drew, 10, and Evan, 13, in a year that has become eventful for Denise.
In addition to the King musical and work at such venues as 595 North, she’s had a few showcases of her own music in area churches.
“With my music, I can sing it in the nightclub and I can sing it in the church,” she explains.
“Blessin’ Me,” a straight-ahead gospel number with Steely Dan-style horn flourishes, is a good example.
This month, headed for a mini-tour of New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Florida, Avery Sunshine takes that church on the road.
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