Jan 10, 2018 – Artist Features
Five Things You Should Know About Sarah White
Story by Morgan Mercer // Photos by Bobby Rogers
This is the year Sarah White is ready to be unapologetic about her work. She’s nearing the two-year anniversary of the release of her first solo EP, she showed a short film at a gallery in New York City this past year and she’s hoarding hundreds of photos she hopes to organize into her first solo show. With nearly a decade of experience under her belt, the self-trained photographer, singer and DJ is reevaluating who she wants to be as an artist. In the process, she’s carving out new space for others to show up and share their stories through her work. Here are five things you should know about Sarah White.
Sarah got her big break on stage in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
In eighth grade, Sarah performed on stage at the State Theatre in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond. She landed the role when her junior high choir at Anthony Middle School competed for and won the chance to perform in the production. She missed weeks of classes to train, rehearse and perform with her fellow choir students. “To skip school at that age and get paid for it was life changing for me,” she says. For the first time she met working entertainers based out of Los Angeles or New York City who made their living on stage. From a young age Sarah knew she wanted to pursue something in music, but it wasn’t until that moment she realized it could be a career.
She didn’t love to sing in front of others until her second band, Black Blondie
It’s a running joke between Sarah and her mom that the artist was an entertainer even as a toddler. Sitting in her stroller at two and three years old, Sarah would belt out songs at the top of her lungs for people riding the city bus with her. Years later, the nationally recognized singer and songwriter went on to front three popular Minneapolis bands—Traditional Methods, Black Blondie and Shiro Dame—before stepping out on her own as a much-lauded solo artist. Despite her extensive career, Sarah lacked confidence in her voice for years. She got stuck in the soprano section in her junior high choir—a laughable choice once you hear her voice—and even had a voice professor in college question if her vocal cords were damaged because her range sounded unusual for a woman. “They didn’t understand where I fit,” says Sarah. “I have a low, raspy voice. It’s not a traditional voice you’d expect for a woman. We spent so much time trying to tune my voice to be what was known as more traditional. It was really frustrating.” Because of that she shied away from singing and jumped into the Twin Cities music scene as a rapper with Traditional Methods, only singing on a couple of the band’s songs. When those tracks came out to positive reception, Sarah started to embrace her unique sound. It wasn’t until her second project, Black Blondie, that she fell in love with singing live on stage.
The artist logged 250 hours of trauma training in 12 weeks
More than ever, Sarah cares about using her art as a tool to connect with others. “We’re losing hope if we forget about the stories and where we come from,” says the artist, who is spending more time on projects related to trauma and healing. “People are scared to be in their bodies because of the amount of hate going around. It’s important to take back some of that power. If we’re afraid to say our truths or be out in the world, we’re giving away our most powerful tool, which is us.” The new direction of her work is due in part to a 12-week training she completed this past spring with Dr. Joi Lewis in the Orange Method (OM)—an approach that emphasizes mindfulness, emotional liberation and learning how individuals process trauma. For Sarah, the experience was like taking a fine-tooth comb to her life to sous out the details behind how she moves through the world and responds to certain situations. The more she learned about herself, the more she was able to create a safe space for others to share their stories or experiences. That training led to her to work on a project where she photographed domestic abuse survivors for an installation in downtown Minneapolis. “It was about holding space and letting them be seen.”
“I don’t know what my role is going to be as an artist, a mother or as someone here on the planet, but I know if I don’t filter my feelings or shy away from saying or doing the things I feel like I need to do, then at least I’m being myself.”
Her photos helped long-lost family members reconnect
Following the deaths of black men like Jamar Clark and Philando Castile at the hands of police, Sarah started a photography project called “Shooting Kings” in collaboration with Made Here MN and Mike Bishop of Public Functionary. “I wanted to paint a new picture of who these brothers are we pass on the street so casually,” she says. To do that, the artist stood on a corner in downtown Minneapolis and started asking black men if she could photograph them. One man she stopped said no. “He said he was the stereotype I was trying to prove he wasn’t,” Sarah says. She didn’t believe him. “If you’re not heard for so long, it’s easy to think you are that [stereotype]. It’s easy for all of us to think we’re failing.” After talking a while longer, the man opened up to Sarah and let her take his photo. When Made Here MN installed the photos along downtown streets, people started to see him in a new light. They treated him like a celebrity. “It put some new pride in him, just be being seen,” Sarah says. So much so that he developed a close bond with staff at Made Here MN and Hennepin Trust, and visited their offices numerous times to get more copies of Sarah’s images to reconnect with family he hadn’t seen in years.
The mom of two is raising the next generation of fierce female artists
Even though Sarah White’s daughters are only 7 and 13 years old, they already charge her for their refrigerator art. “They take themselves pretty seriously,” she jokes. Thanks to Sarah’s long-standing creative career, her kids recognize art is valuable. For the mom, that’s a viewpoint worth paying for—even if it means doling out cash so she can decorate her kitchen with her daughters’ work. In 2016, Sarah released the song “August” on her latest EP, “Laughing With Ghosts.” It’s a track she wrote for her two girls. As a black woman, Sarah grew up in Minneapolis at a time when there were few people in her school or the community who looked like her. “Sometimes I was afraid to speak up about things that weren’t right for me or my body,” she says. “That [song] was a changing point for me to not be afraid to say, ‘You’re sacred, too.’” On more than one occasion, Sarah performed that number in front of audiences that heckled her for the message. Even in the moments she wanted to run off stage, Sarah held her ground and sang. She didn’t back down. When her daughters hear that song, that’s what she wants them to remember to do, too.