One of my favorite subjects to write about is inspirational people, like Christina Anne McCallum, the Canadian nature photographer who is legally blind. What’s even better is when I meet someone who is not only inspiring, but has the magic inside of them to use their gifts at a very young age to infuse others with energy to do great things, too.
A few weeks ago, I met such a brilliant star at the JBJ Soul Kitchen –Charlotte Sabina. Over conversation, I came to learn that Charlotte is not just your average 11-year-old. Not many 11-year-olds can say that they performed at the Best Buy Theater in New York City, opening for Jon Bon Jovi, as she did in October 2011.
And not many fifth graders can say that they donate the proceeds from their songs downloaded on iTunes to the JBJ Soul Kitchen, because they understand and truly believe in the concept. It takes a lot to impress me, and Charlotte Sabina, did.
After spending about an hour eating lunch with Charlotte and her family, I was already captivated by her maturity, composure, and understanding of how it’s so important to use your talents in a positive way, not only for self-fulfillment, but for others, too.
This girl has not been “coached” to say all the right things. She has this energy emanating from within her and the focus and drive of someone well beyond her years. Don’t get me wrong, she makes time to be a kid, too. And that very fact, that she is so young, makes her “sparkle” as her producer, Jeffrey Lee Campbell, says.
What? Charlotte has a producer? Yes. And a producer that has worked with some very well known names in the music business: Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Jon Bon Jovi and Cyndi Lauper to name a few.
So here I was, sitting down at lunch, in awe of this young person I had just met, who composes her own music, writes her own lyrics, plays two instruments, has the voice of an angel, has a charitable soul, makes music videos, and has her recordings on iTunes and amazon.com. Oh yeah, and she goes to school, hangs out with her brother and friends, loves surfing, and does kid things, too. How could I not find out more about her? I was hooked.
As far as her musical abilities, I wanted to see for myself exactly how good this singer-songwriter-guitar player-keyboardist and performer really was. So on Jan. 29, my daughter and I went to see Charlotte perform live at The Underground in NYC. Charlotte performed two of her recent singles, “September” and “Supernatural” (“Supernatural” was influenced by a song called “Spooky Lady's Revenge” by Kris Kristofferson).
I can now officially say that Charlotte Sabina is one of those rare musical artists that sounds just as good in person as she does on her recordings. As this surfer-boy style-inspired young lady commands the stage, she permeates the audience with her musical firepower.
I can’t wait to see Charlotte’s next performance, and hope she plays my favorite “Just a Kid”, (you’ve got to check that one out!) and my daughter’s favorite “Partner in Crime” (her video will get you all choked up. Listen to the lyrics. The video as well as the lyrics, I feel, describe Charlotte’s relationship with her brother, David). It features her brother who she spends a lot of her free time with. They are two siblings that really do get along.
“He’s really supportive. He writes screen plays and he draws really well. He shares the same kind of ‘I want to be this when I grow up,’” explains Charlotte about her brother.
“Just a Kid” and “Partner in Crime” are only two of her songs that show just how diverse Charlotte’s music style is. Some of Charlotte’s original songs have been inspired by Joan Jett, The Clash, the Rolling Stones, Vampire Weekend, Bon Jovi and Stevie Nicks.
Ok. Stop. You can come back to this blog and finish reading the rest of it in a few minutes. If you haven’t taken the time to click on any of the links to Charlotte’s songs and videos so far, please do me this one favor and click on this one now for “Not The Girl” (then, please come back to finish reading this blog).
Rockin’ right? And if you didn’t get chills hearing this kid belt that one out, take a few more minutes and check out the other songs on her YouTube channel.
“At my school when I was 8 years old at a Grandparents’ Day event, I performed a classical piece I wrote for David [my brother], which turned into a rock ‘n roll piece, called “Not The Girl.” I wasn’t really nervous because everyone there was supporting me and wanted me to be great,” said Charlotte about how the song debuted and transformed itself over time.
About song writing, her father said that Charlotte writes her songs in ways that people don't expect. Charlotte loves to write about nature and mystery.
“I write all of my own music and lyrics, except for “Bring You Home,” which I co-wrote the music for with Jeffrey Lee Campbell. I did some covers. 'I Love Rock ‘n Roll' and 'Crimson and Clover' by Joan Jett, but they’re not on my website yet,” says Charlotte.
“I write the music first. I compose first,” she continued. So the lyrics come later.
Besides writing and singing her own music, she even does her own background vocals and she plays guitar and piano on her tracks, too.
So how does an 11-year-old do all of this?
“I have to get up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. and do vocal lessons and do three songs in the morning so I have time,” says Charlotte.
Her father joked that there’s no need for alarm clocks in the house. Everyone wakes up to Charlotte singing. I don’t know about you, but when I was 11, I would have thought it was strange to sing and have my parents hear me … or my friends. Charlotte is fearless. According to her father, she’s so young that she doesn’t know how to be nervous.
After the morning routine, she then goes to school. She gets home, rushes to do her homework (but she tries to do it well), she listens to the tracks she recorded (if it’s a time when she’s recording), and then she does practice tracks and background vocals. After that, she tries to write songs. She has about two hours to use for that. Her schedule is largely based upon whether she’s recording or not. One week she can be recording, and one week she can be working on writing. So as you can see, Charlotte’s devotion to music is serious and she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything.
In the words of Charlotte, “I can go to my friend’s house whenever I want to; but I can’t record whenever I want. I’m not into anything else [besides music] except for surfing. Nothing else except surfing and music.”
“It’s very hard, especially since in middle school the teachers are piling on homework. I don’t come home until 8 p.m. on recording nights. Sometimes I practice my music in the morning before school or during lunch.”
Wow. I could hardly believe these words were coming from such a young person. Most kids I know her age would rather watch TV or play video games. I was blown away by her musical devotion. Her producer says what he likes best about Charlotte is her creativity, joy, and dedication. Dedication, yes. That’s putting it mildly.
“Talent is just one piece of the puzzle. I think the key is that Charlotte is so passionate about music. It’s a calling for her. That will keep her going. When you are ‘wired’ for music, you’re just not happy doing anything else,” says Campbell. “Watching her develop as an artist has been a great inspiration to me.”
See, I told you Charlotte was inspirational! And, in other ways besides musically, too. Listen to this. When I asked Charlotte why she decided to donate the money she makes from people downloading her music to the JBJ Soul Kitchen, instead of spending it on clothes, or video games, like most young people would, she said, “I have everything I need. I have dinner and breakfast every day. There are people out there that need it much more than I do.”
So are you impressed with Charlotte Sabina yet?
Charlotte’s father remarked that his very favorite thing Charlotte ever said about her career in music was that if she didn't make certain decisions for herself then other people would make them for her; and that was what she wanted to avoid. In that regard, she is taking charge like one of her role models, Jon Bon Jovi.
“I really like Jon Bon Jovi because he wrote his own music and made all the right decisions at the right times and he’s lasted long. And his music is really phenomenal,” Charlotte said. “I also like Lady Gaga, because like me, she was a girl and wrote on the piano, just like I do.”
Speaking of one of her role models, you probably want to know what it was like for her to perform at the Best Buy Theater with Jeffrey Lee Campbell and Shawn Pelton in her band, opening for Jon Bon Jovi.
“When I performed at the Best Buy Theater, I was extremely nervous and shaking. My dad gave me a video game to play and that didn’t help. I got on stage and turned that adrenaline into energy!” said Charlotte.
That’s really good advice. When nervous, turn adrenaline into energy and just go for it. I think I was just taught something very valuable by someone a few decades younger than me, and much wiser.
In general, though, Charlotte keeps her cool when performing. Charlotte admits that she doesn’t feel intimidated.
“I honestly try my best to be controlled and ready for anything. I try not to throw myself into something I’m not ready for. I feel grateful to be with the audience.” (Although, her dad says that she’s intimidated by waves that are too big for surfing – but I call that survival instinct!)
Back to the Best Buy Theater performance-Jeffrey Lee Campbell and Shawn Pelton helped her out on stage that night she opened for Jon Bon Jovi, but as a future goal, Charlotte said, “I definitely want to form a band of my own.” She’s got ambition!
When I asked Charlotte about her future aspirations, she said “I want to be a rock star. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
And you know what? I believe she will do it, without a doubt. Like her song says she’s not “Just a Kid”.
And, as her producer, Jeffrey Lee Campbell, says, “Keep an eye on Charlotte Sabina!”
You can see what Charlotte Sabina is up to by going to her website http://www.charlottesabina.com/, following her on Twitter (@CharlotteSabina), viewing her videos on her YouTube channel, or connecting with her fan page on facebook. She will be tweeting and announcing future performances.