The Soundcheck, May Issue 2012
Roanoke’s Spark: Brittany Sparks
By: J. Gabrielle
I feel I’ve known Roanoke singer Brittany Sparks since she was a twinkle in her mother’s eye. Back in the day, her mom, Dena Sparks, and I regularly partied and sang our way through many field concerts, solstice campouts, and open mics. Dena had a vibrant spirit and love for life I knew could never be diminished. Even though my old friend left this world a little over a year ago, that love for life and music lives on in her daughter, Brittany.
I first heard Brittany sing at the Blues and Jazz Festival a couple of summers ago with “Sparks Will Fly” in the band competition. I thought then the voicing from this young woman sounded far more seasoned than her tender years. The fact is: Brittany has been determined for a long time to sing her heart out!
“ I was singing before I could talk. I used to perform 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' at the dinner table for our family at the top of my lungs. I think I was 3 or 4 years old then,” she recalls. Brittany’s mom made sure she took weekly singing lessons for several years. The young woman joined her school chorus as soon as she was old enough. That same summer, 1994, Dena was performing with Cliff Beach and area blues bands.
“I remember going to many different festivals and parties where Mom was performing and my eyes were opened after that first summer. After seeing my Mom perform with so much soul and feeling...and then to see the reaction from the audience...I knew that all I wanted to do was sing. I told my Mom how badly I wanted to sing, and she said that she would support and help me in any way she could. She came to almost all of my gigs, and she was always honest with me about song choices or different ways that I would sing things...I always asked her opinion. It was valued. I have several live recordings where you can hear Mom screaming out song titles at the top of her lungs. She was protective of me, too. I can't tell you how many times I had to stop her from jumping all over a guitar player for overpowering me.”
Mother influenced daughter in the music enjoyed at home: Zeppelin, Donavan, Dylan, and The Doors. Her father comes from a musical lineage with many performing family members. A preacher by trade, he sings and plays mandolin and guitar.
Brittany started going to the Open Mic at the Green Dolphin in high school. This is where she began to gather the members that would one day become “Sparks Will Fly”. Scott Sutton, Bill McCray and Thomas Wilson are the dedicated musicians performing with Ms. Sparks today (facebook.com/sparkswillflyjams). They host the Open Mic at Schooners every Tuesday night. This group cannot be filed under any one genre. Brittany gets to tear up Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Zeppelin, Ray LaMontagne, Sheryl Crow, and more. Brittany wraps her sultry, expressive vocal around each note and lyric.
About a year ago, she began singing with the jam/blues/soul band Groovascape (http://www.reverbnation.com/groovascape). Presently, they are in the studio recording new material. Brittany has added lyricist to her talents, co-writing with the band.
Brittany wants to take music as far as she can go! In the meantime, she lives in the country and tends her garden and herbs. Raised as she was, Brittany was surprised to learn that every kid didn’t beat on drums and dance under the full moon with abandon. “Mom loved music, plain and simple. She felt music, and I could see it on her face when I was young, and it made a pretty significant impact on me. Living without her has been the hardest thing I've ever had to learn to do. I was so caught off guard by her passing. It was just something that never, ever crossed my mind. I miss her more than I can ever tell you, and I sing for her every day.”
“And when one of us is gone, and one of us is left to carry on,
Then remembering will have to do, Our memories alone will get us through.
Think about the days of me and you,
You and Me against the World.”
-Paul Williams, Kenny Ascher-