Lansing JazzFest Artist Feature: Sunny Wilkinson Quartet

Lansing JazzFest Artist Feature: Sunny Wilkinson Quartet

By Stefanie Pohl. CREATED Aug 2, 2012

As part of the 18th annual Lansing JazzFest, local artist Sunny Wilkinson and her group that makes up the Sunny Wilkinson Quartet will be performing Friday, August 3rd. The annual free music festival brings local, regional, and national artists to Old Town.

They will appear on the Jackson National stage from 8:00-9:00PM.

Sunny Wilkinson has taken her place in that elite group of jazz vocalists who have stretched the boundaries and found themselves "one of a kind."

In addition to an impressive performance career, Sunny has also made significant contributions in Jazz education. She served as the Past President of the Michigan chapter of the International Association of Jazz Educators and the past chairperson for IAJE’s Women’s Caucus. She is also the co-founder of IAJE's Sisters in Jazz mentoring program.

With stage history at jazz festivals, clubs and music programs across the country, Sunny is taking her career to new heights. In October of 2011 she had the honor of performing with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra for their POP Series. Sunny was accompanied by her trio and performed masterfully on arrangements by her husband, renowned pianist and MSU faculty member Mr. Ron Newman. Looking ahead, Mrs Wilkinson is excited and passionate about continuing to share her deeply artistic and unique sound with audiences and students everywhere.

We had the opportunity to speak with Sunny about her jazz style, influences, and how she feels like she's becoming "an elder of the tribe" after turning 60 last week.

STEFANIE POHL: When did music first enter into your life?

SUNNY WILKINSON: I remember seeing in my baby book that when I was two years old, my mother was dumbfounded because I could sing perfectly in tune. So for a long time. My family was very musical, I grew up in the church, and I majored in music in college. I've been singing in bands since I was just out of high school. I've been singing longer than I haven't been singing.

SP: Who have been your biggest musical influences?

SW: Certainly Sarah Vaughan. Dori Caymi is an artist I've been enthralled with. And I love Brazilian music - the overall aesthetic is a big influence on me. I also love the people that I grew up with and am listening to now. There are interesting people my son is turning me onto now, like PJ Harvey, who is pretty amazing. I love a wide array of things.

SP: How would you describe the jazz music scene in the mid-Michigan area?

SW: I think it's had a rebirth in the past ten years. There's a spurt of activity especially thanks to the jazz society here, it's gotten very active and supportive. There's been an influx of younger players, which is nice as well. So I think it's doing pretty well.

SP: For those who are coming out to JazzFest, what can they expect from the Sunny Wilkinson Quartet?

SW: I would say that I do a mix of the old and new. I lived almost 15 years in Los Angeles, so I'm influenced by contemporary music. I'm doing everything from standards to Brazilian music to contemporary originals. I just had my sixtieth birthday on Friday, so I feel like I'm becoming an elder of the tribe. My band and I are having more and more fun playing music together. So we're going to have a party. Invite everyone to come along and come sing along with us.


Come out to the 18th annual Lansing JazzFest to see the Sunny Wilkinson Quartet and many others live for free, August 3rd-4th in Old Town.