Shelia Jackson loves to sing and always has. “I don’t know exactly when I started, but I know I was very young, ” she says. “Everybody remembers me singing before I remember singing, if you know what I mean.”
The 50-year-old Jackson also acts, and she performs every time she has the opportunity. But performing is a part-time thing for her. She has a day job as director of the city of Troy’s public relations and tourism department.
A Troy native and one of eight children, Jackson attended what is now Troy University. She began her career more than 26 years ago as the receptionist at Troy City Hall, then worked as an administrative assistant to former Mayor Jimmy Lunsford.
“About 15 years ago, the city created the Troy public relations and tourism department, ” Jackson says, “and they believed I would be a good fit for the job. They gave me the opportunity to grow tourism and head the department. Being in tourism has also availed me the opportunity to share my voice with others. I have sung for the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism and lots of tourism-related organizations inside and outside the state.”
Jackson especially likes to sing patriotic songs, and she has performed for the first President George Bush and several governors at various functions. “I sang the National Anthem for former President Bush at a Business Council of Alabama meeting in Birmingham, and there were people galore there, ” she says.
“And, yes, I always get nervous prior to performing before audiences like that and even in front of audiences here in Troy. But the butterflies go away, and I have nothing but joy when I see the emotions pour from people when I sing.”
Through her association with a women’s tennis tournament in Troy, sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Jackson was invited several years ago to sing at the U.S Open tennis tournament in New York.
“One of the U.S. Open officials heard me sing the National Anthem in Troy and recommended me to the board, and I was invited to sing ‘God Bless America’ before the quarterfinals matches at the U.S. Open, ” Jackson says. “That was a real honor, because they usually get well-known stars to sing the closer they get to the finals of the tournament.
“As it turned out, the matches were rained out, and I didn’t get to sing. But I met all the players who were supposed to play in the quarterfinals. I remember meeting Roger Federer, and that was a lot of fun.”
Jackson says her favorite singing activity is probably an annual Christmas concert she does each year in Troy. “I perform to a packed house every year, and it’s also an opportunity for me to share the stage with my friends who are also gifted, ” she says. “And of course I love singing at women’s conferences and at my church — Greater St. Paul AME Church. Knowing that I made someone’s day is a joy, especially at Noble Manor assisted living home.”
It would appear that music truly is in Jackson’s blood. Her oldest daughter, Haley, is the band director at Pleasant Valley High School in Jacksonville. Her son, Patrick, is a senior at Charles Henderson High School in Troy and an All-State Jazz Band saxophone player. Jackson’s youngest daughter, Gabbie, is taking piano lessons and “singing along with me whenever she can, ” Jackson says.
In hindsight, Jackson says she wouldn’t have done anything differently. But there are times when she wonders what it would be like to perform full time. “Maybe it’s something I’ll do full time one of these days, I’m not sure, ” Jackson says. “I believe I am fulfilling the purpose that God has for my life. Honestly, I have no regrets about my career. I have been blessed. The City of Troy has been good to me. I have a wonderful family, including my husband, Kevin, and loving and supportive friends.
“I consider Troy a hidden treasure because a lot of people think of us as a gateway to the Florida beaches and other areas, but once we get them to get off U.S. 231, they discover that we have wonderful, warm and friendly people, great places to eat and some interesting places to visit. When they stop by the Pioneer Museum or visit the Johnson Center for the Arts or come for a concert, they will leave with a new impression of Troy. And that’s what I love.”
Charlie Ingram and Tim Skipper are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Ingram is based in Birmingham and Skipper in Dothan.