After losing parents, teen will sing at Sydney Opera House
By JONECE STARR DUNIGAN
May. 20, 2017
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Diamond Sparks knew her singing voice would take her to places across the Unites States.
But the Alabama School of Fine Arts student never thought it would take her halfway across the world to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. From July 7-12, she will be performing with other high-school aged singers from around the globe in the Honors Performance Series Choir. Sparks is excited for many things such as the breath-taking scenery of Australia's landscape. She can't wait to hear the voices of people of different countries mesh together to create a harmonious masterpiece.
Before all of that, she must overcome two obstacles. One of them is financial and the other deals with flying. Sparks is trying to fundraise the $6,000 needed for travel, food and other expenses. As of May 12, $25 has been donated to her cause since she created a GoFundMe account in December. A Birmingham civic group called the Couples Club has donated $1,000 to her trip. Although she has flown once before, boarding an international flight seems like a daunting task since she is making the trip by herself.
But she'll be OK, she said. Sparks has overcome a lot during her 16 years of life. It took her two tries to earn her spot ASFA for music and voice. She is now finishing her third year. Her father lost his battle to liver cancer in 2011. About five years later, Sparks' mother died of congestive heart failure.
She believes she can overcome her obstacles the same way she overcame her past - through family, song and one more ingredient.
"Prayer," Sparks said in a shaky voice as she talked about her parents' deaths. "Everything happens for a reason. I basically had to step back, look at it, and say, 'If I can get overcome this, I can overcome anything.'"
Although her parents weren't professional singers, music has always created the fondest memories for Sparks and her family. Songs by Diana Ross, Whitney Houston and Gladys Knight became their soulful soundtrack during family road trips. Cleaning the house sometimes turned into a musical. Sparks would sing with her father while he dropped her off at school.
But after school, her father made sure her head was in the books. Sparks said her dad wanted her to take full advantage of an opportunity he denied at first. Sparks said her father dropped out of high school, but then decided to get his GED later in life.
"He would always push me to be the best in everything that I do," Sparks said. "He was always involved in my schooling. He would say, 'You don't start something that you can't finish. Pick something and be the best at it.'"
That's what Sparks did with her signing. She memorized nearly every song on Fantasia Barrino's first album "Free Yourself". Her mom was captivated by her voice. So she let her sing at church, where Sparks had her first performance in front of an audience at age 5.
After that moment, music became more than just lyrics and sounds. It became her mentor, sometimes her counselor, during troubled times. When she felt depressed, a ballad would remind her that everything would be OK.
"It's like my hiding place," Sparks said. "Everyone has a place where they go to when they have a stressful day."
Singing and acting became the therapy she needed the summer after her father died, her former voice coach Ruth Randall-Eaton said. Eaton first met Sparks during a six-week camp for singing and music at Miles College.
Sparks' voice was powerful and had a wide range, but Eaton could sense she was holding back a little. Together, they worked through that sorrow and allowed it to come out through performance. Eaton watched as Sparks metamorphized in front of her eyes as Sparks learned how to control her breathing while singing and dancing at the same time despite her asthma.
"When you have the stage as an open hospital, that's where you go to for healing," Eaton said.
While other vocal coaches taught Sparks how to polish her singing voice, her mother taught her how to live in good spirits. Sparks said her mom's joy was magnetic. No one was a stranger for long with her mom around.
Often they would be in public places and Sparks' mom would ask someone, Would you like to hear my daughter sing?
Often, Sparks would try to shy away from the spotlight, but after a little nudge from her mother, she would raise her voice. No matter how well she did, her mother's comments were always the same.
Girl, you did so good.
Sparks tries to keep her mom's positivity in mind, even after her death.
"With me being so young, I guess it only prepared me for life," Sparks said. "Life is tricky. It throws you off sometimes. You wonder, 'Why?' But I can't doubt God for taking her. It was just her time. God won't put you through what you can't handle. So I keep thinking about that."
Every year, Eaton receives information about the Honors Performance Series Choir. She knew Sparks fulfilled all the requirements of the application and vocally. She also thought about all the international singing experiences she encountered during her more than 35 years of professional singing. Out of all the places she has been, the opera house was Eaton's favorite spot. She decided to nominate Sparks for her place in the choir so she can witness that same experience.
"I thought this would be an opportunity for her to find herself in the presences of other artists who are as serious about honing their craft as she is," Eaton said. "It would be something she could call uniquely hers."
Sparks didn't know that Eaton was talking about an honors choir when Eaton told Sparks she would be getting something in the mail soon. In September, she received the information about her nomination. That same month, Sparks got to work by producing an audition recording and sending it to the selection board.
Sparks will admit that she was nervous during the wait, but she found a sense of calm in her faith.
"Something in me told me, 'God's got me. It's going to be alright,'" Sparks said.
The email about the decision came on Oct. 31. She was sitting in the car while her grandmother, who is now her guardian, was in the store. When she read about her acceptance in the choir, she erupted in screams of joy. When her grandmother came into the car and found out to news, she started screaming, too.
Although Eaton is no longer Sparks' voice coach, she remained connected to Sparks and was around when her mother died. She watched as Sparks grew spiritually and vocally. Her songs became less airy and her range grew. She said Sparks' name correlates with how she is maturing.
"The material a diamond is made from has no bearing on what it is at the end," Eaton said. "I have seen Diamond evolve from the rough and turn into this very sparkly, priceless jewel."
The legacies of Sparks' mother and father are still woven in their daughter's spirit. After high school, she plans to become a pediatrician. Partly because she can still feel her father's encouragement to get an education. Partly because she likes children. She models her mother's attitude towards life, she said.
"She basically told me to have a good attitude towards people and always treat people the way you want to be treated and never put people down for what they want to do in life," Sparks said.
Sparks said singing makes her feel closer to her parents. She'll be serenading to a classical repertoire in Australia. But in her mind, she said she will be reminiscing about the time she stayed up until 1 a.m. singing Tina Turner songs with her mother, the times when she sang along with her father during rides to school, the soulful tunes they all sang during family road trips.
Deep in her heart, she said she knows what her parents will be saying as she harmonizes with people from across the world.