The soul performer made the tough decision to pass up financial safety to pursue her dream.
Absegami High School graduate Barbara Sheree had a choice.
She could take the “safe path,” meaning she would graduate from Temple University with a degree in International Business and Marketing, virtually guaranteeing a steady and lucrative income for the duration of her life.
Or she could throw caution to the wind and pursue the career she always wanted, singing and performing for the world, gambling on the unlikely chance that she would be one of the few to succeed at what she loves to do.
To do so would mean Sheree would not only leave the business world in an unfulfilled future, but her first true long-term job would also be a thing of the past.
Sheree chose to fulfill the dream most people only dream of, that of becoming a soul singer.
“I used to sing in high school,” Sheree, 33, said. “I was in Absegami choirs and church choirs. I had no drive to sing (professionally) because I didn’t think I could.”
However, while enrolling at Temple was supposed to further Sheree’s education in the business world, the act of moving to Philadelphia led her in another direction.
“I would go to open mic nights and see artists like Jill Scott and Floetry, and during my sophomore year, I decided it was my time to make music,” Sheree said. “I began working on my first project.”
Sheree has since produced three full albums, and is working on a fourth, and has performed all across America, as well as Morocco and Paris. She has a monthly event in Delaware, and will be performing at the Hard Rock Café on July 31. She also hopes to get to Spain by the end of the summer.
“I’ve had my financial struggles, but the payoff has been worth it,” Sheree said. “I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m doing something I love to do.”
Sheree said that even when she wanted to go into the professional world, she couldn’t escape her calling. When she was thinking of starting her own law firm, the first thing she did was create a jingle for it.
“I’ve always had the desire, but I was very discouraged,” Sheree said. “There were no girls that looked like me. There were no women of a certain size or look, and it was very discouraging. I didn’t believe in myself.
“Those stereotypes were lifted for me when I began to see women of a full-sized figure, like Jill Scott and Marsha (Ambrosius) of Floetry. For them, it was all about the music and it clicked in me that there was a space for me in the industry.”
She even received words of encouragement from Ambrosius, Patti LaBelle and Deanna Williams.
“The best inspiration is by example,” Sheree said. “I saw Jill Scott be successful and that inspired me, even though I never spoke to her.”
And although discouragement was everywhere for Sheree, none of it ever came from her family.
Sheree was a straight A student before she reached high school, but while at Absegami, she admits her attention was “pulled into other areas.”
“My family pulled me back on track,” Sheree said. “I had my academic troubles at the time, but my mother is very strict. If you have all your homework done, even if everything is right, if it’s not done neatly, she’ll make you do the whole thing all over again. She’s very strict, and I hope to pass that on to my children because it made me who I am today.”
She added that her mother is also “the sweetest person on the planet,” wants to come out to every one of Sheree’s events. Her sister and her grandmother are also extremely supportive, and her father passed on to her the natural talent she needed to succeed.
“My father is also a performer,” Sheree said. “I’ve always heard similarities between me and my father. He did soul and moved on to gospel, and I still do mainly soul, but our performances are very similar.
“(My family’s) belief and support will never die. A lot of people in my situation would have people telling you you’re crazy, and not support you.”
This is not the case for Sheree, who still needed to find that confidence within herself.
Sheree did find that confidence, and was able to perform despite struggles with her weight.
While many performers struggle to lose weight and live up to images set forth not just in the music world, but in the public life in general, Sheree overcame those stereotypes without shedding a pound, initially.
“We are not all meant to be a size 4 and 100 pounds soaking wet,” said Sheree, who lost 140 pounds after undergoing gastric bypass surgery. “People come in different sizes, shapes and colors and we have to embrace that. I refuse to get caught up in the quest for size perfection.”
For Sheree, losing weight was all about being healthy.
“I’m happy with the way I look now,” Sheree said. “My goal is to be a healthy size and to feel good being me.”
And now her music is available on iTunes and other digital websites, as stores in the Philadelphia area. Her music is available online because she says digital music is the more popular form of distribution at this time.
She has performed on NBC’s “Clash of the Choirs” alongside LaBelle.
She has performed at the Roots Picnic, which featured the Philadelphia-based hip-hop group, as well as Nas, among a whole host of groups.
Videos of her performances are also available on her website, barbarashereemusic.com and on youtube.
She has acted in musicals and hosts a weekly radio show. The self-professed “renaissance woman” is now also a professional artist in the sense that she sold her first painting last week.
“It started as a hobby,” Sheree said. “I believe that everyone has multiple gifts, and you’re selling yourself short if you don’t pursue all of them.”
She still has anxiety over her finances, something she could’ve possibly avoided had she kept to the “safe path.”
“How am I going to get enough for the rent? Am I going to be able to perform enough to pay the bills?” are among Sheree’s questions. “I don’t ever doubt I made the right decision.
“Even when your friends are telling you maybe you should do something else, you need to trust yourself, trust in God and keep pressing. … Any great entrepreneur has to take that great leap. I appreciate the journey.”