Inspirational Singer From North Ridgeville, Sandra Payne

by Cara Baker

It’s 3 a.m. The rain is pouring, the wind howling and the thunder deafening. Sandra Payne is running outside, barefoot, in a panic because she just woke up and realized the sunroof on her 3-week-old car is wide open. It’s been raining for five hours. There’s more than an inch of rain in the cup holders of her ‘98 bright red Ford Escort ZX2. "It’s soaked," Payne says, catching her breath. "I can’t believe I did that. My Dad will probably say, That’s so dumb. Sandy. You should remember things like that."

It takes a while to get used to a new car. It’s also taking the 23-year-old from North Ridgeville, Ohio, a while to get used to her career as an inspirational artist. After living on her own for four years, she’s moved back home to make travel easier. Payne’s frustrations sound similar to others her age ... well, others who have a record deal and touring schedule, "Oh my gosh, I’m 23 and living with my parents. But it’s nice, because I’m not there all the time. Every time I’ve been home it’s been for a day, a day and a half–just time to go to the dry cleaners."

Traveling is nothing new to Payne. She’s done it all her life, with her parents’ southern gospel group. The Paynes, with whom she recently sang on a Bill Gaither Homecoming video. She began singing with her family at age 14. The group disbanded a few years later, but re-formed when offered a contract in 1996 with southern gospel label Daywind Records.

Through the recording of that album, producer and A&R director Wayne Haun heard Sandra’s "phenomenal" voice and offered her a deal with Whitefield Music, a division of Daywind Music Group. Her multi-octave ability resembles the vocal stylings of female divas such as Anita Baker and Mariah Carey, while she names her musical influences as Bob Dylan, Yolanda Adams, Patsy Cline and, "of course, Davy Jones from The Monkees."

Like her wide variety of influences, her self-titled debut contains a broader range of styles than most inspirational offerings. From her duet with Alvin Slaughter, "I’ll Believe In You," to the easy, big band feel of "King’s Table" to the guitar-driven Bob Dylan cover "Saved," the selections reflect Payne’s search to fill a niche and find her place.

However, the subtleties in her voice adapt to each style effortlessly. "Every time someone hears this album, they say, How does she do that? says producer Wayne Haun. "Sandra is not a trained vocalist. It’s a God-given talent."

"The tape is very personal," Payne says. "It has all different varieties I love to sing. I love jazz. I love that Bob Dylan style, with the rocky edge. I love the church songs, the inspirational songs–the ones that really get to the heart. The next album will probably be more inspirational, just because they don’t know where to market me. Eventually I will do another variety album."

For now, she’s working hard, touring and getting used to the spotlight–one place she’s used to sharing with her parents. She still finds her solo shows a little nerve-racking for her. Before a show in Sparta, Tenn., she forgot the words to a verse of "Throw Me a Lifeline" during the pre-show sound check. Her publicist had to write down the words while listening to Payne’s tape in the car, five minutes before the concert.

But the song ministers to the singer as much as to the listener. "Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with all the cares of this life, to the point it’s as if I’m starting to sink in the sea of problems," she says. "Sometimes, even though I’m a Christian, I feel like the disciples on the ship while Jesus was sleeping."

Then a smile creeps over her face as she thinks of the storm the night before, as she rushed to save her upholstery. "The song has a whole different meaning to me now after the downpour of rain inside my car."

Reprinted by permission, Profile Magazine.