can be confusing, even at its best. For most of us, it’s a
long sojourn of ups and downs, stops and starts, and lessons learned—often
the hard way—that one day, hopefully adds up to something
of value. But here and there, now and then a rare soul arrives whose
life appears almost perfectly ordered from the first breath they
take, by divine design and guided by a hand much bigger than that
of any mere mortal.
Still Waters Records takes great pleasure in introducing Sunny Hawkins,
a lifetime resident of that very select second category, whose debut
release, More of You, is a calling card to the world, announcing
the arrival of a truly amazing talent.
With a year as a lead character in the smash, Tony Award-winning,
Broadway musical Rent, original songs recently recorded by superstars
Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, a long list of famous names for
whom she has sung background vocals; and now her debut, center-stage,
as a solo artist in her own right, Sunny Hawkins has accomplished
quite a bit indeed for a young woman still in her twenties.
Clearly fluent in a wide range of genres, Sunny delivers a rivetingly
original amalgam of jazzy R&B and pop, with flashes of everything
from edgy hip-hop to power-chording rock guitars finding a perfect
place in the final mix. Delightfully defying easy categorization,
Sunny Hawkins paints on a canvass that can truly be called her own,
from a palette of musical colors as wide and arresting as her seemingly
Co-written and produced by Sunny and her hit-making husband, Jamie
Hawkins—the vanguard of the next generation of gospel’s
legendary, decade-spanning Hawkins Family—More of You is the
result not just of two young lifetimes immersed in great music,
but deep bloodlines as well, running to and from that music’s
Sunny calls her sound “urban inspirational,” and that
comes as close as any label would, if you need a label. Better still
to just call it Sunny Hawkins, and More of You, then slip it in
the player and let the music explain itself.
The album’s infectiously hooky title song is an irresistible
slice of high-energy, funk/rock, that finds both Sunny and her stunning
vocal ensemble hitting the ground already in overdrive. Just as
readily, with seemingly effortless ease and finesse, Sunny flows
with the smooth, jazzy pop of “It’s Like Air,”
adding a contrast that only heightens the album’s intrigue.
A Man” begins gently, with only acoustic guitars and piano
accompanying Sunny’s poignant vocal. As a lone cello and sparse
percussion drop into place, the song builds in power and intensity,
finally crescendoing into a full-blown power ballad, driven by with
a wall of electric guitars, explosive drums and orchestra, and Sunny’s
dramatic voice, rising from a whisper to a roar, and back.
“Alright” is steady rolling R&B/pop that exudes
warmth and goodness as Sunny expresses her wonderment at God’s
unfailing love; while a bed of acoustic rhythm guitars and percussion
carry Sunny’s soaring, angelic vocal on “Crazy,”
a musical love letter written to her husband.
Sunny was born in a strong, church-going family where music both
ran in the genes and rang throughout the house. With musically gifted
parents and a God-given gift for song all her own, Sunny made her
public vocal debut in church when she was only two. At age five,
she moved from her birthplace, Berkeley, California, to Washington
D.C., where she spent the most formative years of her young life,
and stills relates to as home. Before that move however, Sunny’s
mother had attended college in the Bay Area of California, where
she also was a regular at weekly Bible Studies given by a young,
charismatic pastor—himself both a great singer and bearer
of one of the great names in gospel music—Walter Hawkins.
She struck a close friendship with Walter and his wife Tramaine,
both of whom were well on their way to becoming major figures in
gospel music, and asked the Hawkins, upon Sunny’s birth, to
be the baby’s god-parents.
Though she grew up a continent apart from them, she remained close
and in regular contact with the entire Hawkins family, including
Walter’s brother Edwin, of “Oh Happy Day” fame,
but lost touch with Walter and Tramaine’s son, Jamie, had
been a frequent childhood playmate. Never having a thought in her
entire life of a career in anything other than music, Sunny, at
age 16, graduated a D.C.-area high school that focused on music
and the arts, and four years later received a degree in music and
voice from Arizona State University.
With the ink on her diploma scarcely dry, and her sights firmly
set on the Broadway stage, Sunny made a fearless beeline for New
York City, where she answered every weekly casting call she could
make, landing parts here and there both off-Broadway and in various
theaters in the area. Approaching the end of her first year in the
fierce competition of New York theater, she auditioned for and landed
a chorus part in the long-running, smash-hit musical, Rent, which
also gave her a featured song in the show. When the role of “Joanne,”
a principal lead in the play, opened up some months later, Sunny
was a natural fit. For the next year—as 2001 rolled into ’02—Sunny,
just barely into her 20s, performed the part eight times a week.
landed a role that thousands of struggling artists would kill for,
Sunny departed the show, after a hugely successful run, with equal
determination to expand and share both her artistic and spiritual
horizons in a musical context that reflected her own solo, signature
style as well as the singular life journey that was already well
underway by that time. During her tenure with “Rent,”
Sunny had begun to take a teenage flirtation with songwriting seriously,
and the results were impressive. At the urging of a “friend
of a friend of a friend,” she was told of a young producer
based in northern New Jersey whom she simply “had to meet.”
The outcome of the two young artists’ meeting was nothing
short of providential, as the hot producer/ songwriter/ instrumentalist
turned out to be none other than Jamie Hawkins, Sunny’s childhood
playmate, both of whom had long ago fallen out of touch with the
other. Having already built a reputation for himself as musical
director for several multi-platinum acts, including Boyz II Men,
Lauryn Hill, and Mary J. Blige, and producer of two tracks on his
mother Tramaine’s No. 1 gospel album, Still Tramaine in 2001,
as well as 2 tracks on Donnell Jones’ No. 3 album Life Goes
On in 2002, Jamie and Sunny’s paths could not have crossed
at a more perfect time.
Both young, gifted and ambitious, and with résumés
shaping into big league credentials—not to mention their childhood
history together—the couple effortlessly renewed their friendship
which, over the next two years, grew into a serious romance and
marriage in 2004.
Through the introduction of the same friend who had almost inadvertently
steered Sunny back into Jamie’s life, she made the acquaintance
of hit producer Troy Taylor, who was impressed with her songwriting.
They began a short collaboration that would turn out to be fruitful.
One of their first originals, “The Only Thing Missin,”
wound up the lead single on Aretha Franklin’s 2003 hit, So
Damn Happy, soaring to No. 7 on the Billboard magazine Dance Music/Club
Play chart, with Sunny also a featured background vocalist.
Six months later, in May of 2004, another R&B/pop legend, Patti
LaBelle, rocketed onto the R&B/Hip-Hop album chart at No. 5
with Timeless Journey, featuring Sunny’s “Good Lovin,”
and establishing her as a songwriter to be reckoned with.
By the time of their marriage, Sunny and Jamie were collaborating
on a frequent and focused basis, co-writing and recording what was
essentially the first draft of More of You. The newlyweds moved
back to their childhood home of Oakland, as Sunny began performing
in clubs as well as churches, finding equally warm, enthused receptions
in both. The couple released an early version of the CD independently
and marketed it themselves at Sunny’s engagements. Steady
and solid sales, even confined to a largely local and regional market,
confirmed that Sunny’s self-coined, genre-leaping musical
hybrid of “urban inspirational,” was a finely honed
combination of influences that cut an unusually wide swath across
a diverse demographic. Advised that her catchy-but-cool, sophisticated
sound would find a warm reception at Santa Monica-based Hidden Beach
Records, she approached the company, with both soon agreeing that
the fit was indeed perfect.
With still another major chapter in her already amazing life story
about to unfold, Sunny speaks with the depth and assuredness of
one who long ago latched onto one of life’s simplest, yet
most profound truths.
“I see God as having always been like a camera for me,”
she says. “There are things all around you as far as you can
see, but when you look through the view-finder of a camera, it focuses
you very clearly and definitely on whatever you chose to point it
at. He’s always given me focus and shown me where to direct
myself to capture whatever it was He wanted me to. I’ve always
known that through Him, everything in my life was always alright,
and even if it didn’t seem alright at any given time, He would
make it right. Life is good, and should be celebrated. That’s
what I hope this album brings. I hope people will hear it and feel
that same happiness and joy we felt creating it.”