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Sing Along With Sara Sherr.

March 11, 2012

Text by Kelsey Doenges. Image by Olivia Vaughn.

There isn’t even a stage – just a microphone, a monitor and the concrete floor beneath him. There are no flashing lights or colorful backdrops, just PBR paraphernalia covering every available space on the wall. This isn’t a performance venue. It’s like your friends’ parents’ basement. The crowd is literally so close, he can touch them. And his biggest fans are his friends, the kickball team who won their game earlier tonight and then came to Bob & Barbara’s for a celebratory drink and a little karaoke.

The beat blasts through the speakers and hits his ears. He immediately transforms from the kid on the kickball team to the number one Ginuwine impersonator in the room.

“If you’re horny, let’s do it,” he belts out. “Ride it, my pony!”

Between lyrics, he snaps, “I don’t see enough people grinding. Come on! I just need a saddle and a horse. Just a saddle and a horse, everyone.”

Two teammates join him at the front of the room, one bent down pretending to be a horse while the other mimics a cowgirl, riding him while swinging an imaginary lasso in the air.

This young man knows “Pony” so well he doesn’t even need the lyrics on the monitor to guide him. In the corner of the room, a group of girls debate whether this is endearing or a severe flaw – as they double-fist sweating cans of PBR and whiskey, the city-wide special.

There is only one person to thank for this boy’s instant stardom. And no, it’s not his voice teacher (one would be surprised if he actually had one), his parents or even God.

It’s Sara Sherr, the host of Sing Your Life Karaoke, who has been generously providing a stage for the able-bodied singers and the tone-deaf dreamers for five years now.

Sitting behind a table, the light from her computer bouncing off her short blonde hair, Sherr is the only person you can see clearly in the dingy bar. She notices the nearly perfect rendition of “Pony” just enough to smirk before looking down at the pile of requests she has in her hand. Her job tonight is simple – keep everything moving so everyone has a chance to sing, and make sure there are no repeats.

Sing Your Life Karaoke is not the only place where Sherr – a DJ, promoter and journalist, among other things – provides a stage for those who may not normally find one. She is also the co-founder, along with Lisa Flynn, of Sugar Town, a monthly showcase for female rockers. Created in 2001, it was built on the idea that female musicians were not celebrated enough throughout the industry.

“I always championed a lot of female artist that I liked, so it was something that I always felt strongly about,” Sherr says. “I consider myself a feminist but instead of being overtly political, I would do it in the things I was involved in, like writing and music. So Sugar Town is an extension of that too.”

Sherr also teaches the history of women in music for Girls Rock Philly, the local organization dedicated to empowering young girls through music education.

“In commercial rock radio, you don’t hear a lot of female voices,” Sherr explains. “And if you are looking at the mainstream media, you don’t see a woman holding a guitar. They are usually front women. The front women are very important, don’t get me wrong, but that is the only role they are shown in.”

Her in-depth curriculum tries to encompass all the ladies who helped to create rock and roll, as well as blues, gospel, jazz and country. Typically, if young girls learn about the history of music, it is the great man theory.

But Sherr illustrates that in every genre of music, women were pioneers and had an important part in the way that culture has been shaped today.

“I go around the room and ask who is their favorite female artist or band,” she says. “If I get a bunch of Hannah Montanas, I incorporate the women who sang songs that other people wrote for them. ‘You can have a job writing songs and have other people sing them for you.’ I kind of turn it around that way, so that I don’t belittle their choices.”

Sherr introduces influential women who left their mark on the music industry like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gospel singer who played the electric guitar, Billie Holiday, the jazz singer, and June Carter Cash, who wrote “Ring of Fire.” The list goes on and on.

By sharing this knowledge, Sherr hopes young girls will realize the enormous impact that women had while shaping the tunes they hear today. Hopefully, that awareness will make girls feel more welcomed in a business that is typically male dominated.

She wishes there had been something along the same caliber as Girls Rock Philly when she was younger. Her father made his living as a musician, playing in cover bands. He was the type of person who could pick up and flawlessly play an instrument without any effort. Sherr, on the other hand, studied the viola, bass and electric guitar – only to find them frustrating.

“It was the 80s and you didn’t see a lot of women holding guitars and playing instruments on MTV,” she recalls. “I think if I had been exposed to more of that, I might have stuck with it even though I wasn’t good.”

And maybe that is why Sherr has invested the majority of her career championing for the voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard, whether from handing them a microphone at karaoke to giving them an entire stage to perform on, or by making people aware of the possibilities a musical future holds.

The nontraditional voices are the ones that Sherr rallies for.

The last lyrics to “Pony” trail across the screen and there ends the four minutes and 11 seconds of fame for this kickball player.

Sherr quickly announces the next song and hands the microphone off to another eager patron, who hears the beginning notes of the classic, empowering ballad, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton.

She hikes up her long peasant skirt to reveal a beat up pair of cowboy boots and then sings the song with such conviction, you’d swear she lived these words before.

It’s her time to shine.

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