YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – First News is celebrating Black History Month by showcasing stories that reflect, celebrate and honor African Americans. During the month, First News will be featuring the people who have told you about Black History over the years — on TV, radio and in print. Tonight, we’re recognizing one musician from the Youngstown area.
Sharon Rae North may not have always been a singer by vocation, but she has always felt like a musician in spirit.
“For hours and hours, I could just sit next to my parents. Hi-fi listening and my right ear would be right by the speaker and I would just sit there on the floor listening,” she said.
Born and raised in Youngstown, North has performed at the Apollo and across the U.S. and Europe, but she says one of the highlights of her career was being able to return home to perform.
“At the amphitheater of the Youngstown Wine and Jazz Festival. Performing in your hometown is… it’s most people’s dream, you know, to come back home,” North said.
Her influences include singers like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and others.
As an African American artist, North says the entertainment business has long recognized the talent of Black artists, but not always respected them as people.
“There were times when people like Sammy Davis, Jr. and so many others could go in these places and perform, but they couldn’t sit down at a table and eat. They couldn’t walk in the front door,” she said.
Though things have improved for the Black community, North says she has still experienced racism in more subtle ways.
“Artists who paved the way for artists like me. I mean, they went through it. You know, Billie Holiday, you know, the song ‘Strange Fruit,’ you know, about Black people hanging from trees and whatnot. So we may not experience that overtly but I think we still experience it. Hopefully, one day, that’ll change. I don’t know if it’ll be in my lifetime, but there has been progress made,” North said.