You never know when and where a life-changing musical discovery will occur.
For singer Gina Sicilia, it was circa the late 1990s when, as a 14-year-old, she saw a TV commercial for a Time-Life Music collection of classic blues, soul and R&B tunes.
“A few songs really stuck out — B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill of Gone’ [being one of them] — and made me order the CD, and I ordered it right away,” she recalls. “And I wore it out. I listened to it nonstop on my little Discman. I memorized the entire thing.”
However, she was not interested in sharing her newfound musical love with her Philadelphia-area peers.
“I felt that they would think it was weird, so it was something I kept to myself — it was my own little secret,” Sicilia says. “When I was a young teenager listening to that stuff, it belonged to me. It was a very personal thing for me. I [felt like I] was the only person in the world who was listening to and loving that music. When you’re that age, you kind of want to be like everybody else, I guess. You don’t want to stand out too much, so I kept that too myself.”
Once she started singing and writing songs, Sicilia also opted to keep those interests a secret from most everyone, except her family. That changed when at age 18, she started participating in a weekly blues jam at the Philadelphia club Warmdaddy’s.
“I had done talent shows and a county-fair performance here and there when I was growing up,” she says, “but other than that, I had no other stage experience. I had never sung with a band before. The first time I went, I remember it being an absolute disaster, but everyone there was so encouraging. There was always somebody there who encouraged me to come back next time and to keep coming back.”
She became a Warmdaddy’s regular over the next few months and along the way met bassist Jimmy Pritchard, who helped her assemble a backing band to record a demo of original material.
Sicilia now has four albums under belt, the latest of which is It Wasn’t Real (VizzTone/Swingnation). The previous three were produced by Dave Gross and featured her regular band; Real was produced by Glenn Barratt, who also recruited the musicians.
“I was nervous about it because it was kind of something new,” she says. “It turned out to be a very positive thing for me to be nervous and not be in my comfort zone because in situations like that, I’m usually at my best.”
Sicilia hopes to be at her best when she performs “The Star-Spangled Banner” on June 22 prior to the NASCAR action at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
“It is a hard song to sing [even though it’s] a short song, and there aren’t many lyrics to remember,” says Sicilia, who recently performed the national anthem at another auto-racing event. “It’s a matter of singing it and trying to make it your own while still saying true to the melody and not going crazy with it.”
Does singing the national anthem come with the added bonus of saying, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” or something similar?
“I wish,” she says with a laugh. “Unfortunately, when I’m done singing, I have to get out of there or I’ll be hit by a car.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Jim Esposito