From Patti Labelle and the Bluebells to the Rolling Stones to the Hopewell Theater — where she presents a musical tribute to Aretha Franklin on Saturday, June 15 — Sarah Dash gives it her all to performing and her role as Trenton’s official Music Ambassador.
But why not? It’s her home town. “I restored the house we lived in,” she says about moving back into her parents’ home. “I enclosed the porch and made it my little haven.”
Dash says her father was a scrap and metal man as well as a pastor at the Trenton Church of Christ, right down the road from Shiloh Baptist.
The seventh of 13 children, Dash says, “They can all sing, my brothers and sisters. I’m the only one with the spirit and nerve to do what I do in front of people.”
Dash, 73, is comfortable discussing her life touring around the world, the places she has lived, and her long history in music. Her energy is infectious as she skips from subject to subject, always clear about her love of both music and the city of Trenton.
Her first real singing performance was back in grade school, at a nightclub called the Crossing Inn, where she won a singing contest. She notes how venerable music teacher Tommy Grice at the old Junior Five School was a mentor before she moved on to Trenton High. She studied violin and was the only black girl in the orchestra. Her name wasn’t even in the yearbook for it. But she accepts that things were different then.
Dash first began touring as a teen and had a tutor on the road. That didn’t go over well with her pastor dad. She had a chaperone too, no free-for-all situation. It was four young girls on the road. Her father, however, did not see her perform until she played the Metropolitan Opera House 16 years later.
“But that’s why I’m the person I am now,” she says. “I’m not nodding out. I can articulate my thoughts still. I’m glad I don’t look like what I’ve been through.”
That first tour was with Patti Labelle and the Bluebells. The group was at first called just the Bluebells, but there was another group in their union with the same name so their name had to be changed. It was a group of equals with Dash, Labelle, Cindy Birdsong — who later went on to sing with the Supremes — and fellow Trenton native Nona Hendrix.
Dash went on to sing on the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels” album as the only female vocalist and toured with Keith Richards on his solo tour.
Prior to returning to Trenton, Dash lived in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and on the Upper West Side in New York — where she easily sold her apartment back to the owners she bought it from when she moved back home.
“With the magnitude of success that I’ve had, coming back to Trenton leads people to assume I’m starving, or that I’m a failure, but I came back here — I didn’t know what the reason was at first. Now I’m here most of the time,” she says.
In addition to performing, Dash is also a vocal coach and a music business consultant.
Her approach to being a consultant is simple and direct. “I always say I’m in this business called ‘show,’’’ she says. “The one thing I want to teach people is that there’s a protocol for talking to people. Speaking to promoters, to the audience, to your fans — the music business is something of its own.”
But then she talks of music as something deeper. “Music has been the thing that really heals my spirit,” she says. “As music ambassador, and with new leadership like Mayor Reed Gusciora and Governor Murphy, I want to be able to represent this city with everything I do. Reed is very serious about what he wants to do in Trenton. He’s not superficial. I really like his spirit.”
Dash is also serious about music. She is a current voting Grammy member, sits on its advocacy board, and is a trustee for the New Jersey Capital Philharmonic Orchestra. She says the orchestra’s president, former opera singer Gloria Teti, is one of her favorite singers.
Other Trenton favorites are Grace Little, a regular area performer who had been signed to Philadelphia International Records; and Trenton High orchestra leader Joseph Pucciatti, whom she nominated for an education Grammy.
“I’ve been all over the world,” she says. “Music bridges the gap between people. You can play in Japan and in Africa and here in the States. Isn’t it wonderful to be connected that way? With that comes a lot of responsibility,” she says. “I really want to make a difference.”
Sarah Dash: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin, Hopewell Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Saturday, June 15, 8 p.m. $52.25 to $59.95. 609-466-1964. www.hopewelltheater.com.