This is the latest installment of "After Hours" — a series about faculty and staff who balance their work lives with side projects or fascinating hobbies.
Name: Shalonda Martin
Day job: Director of Gift & Data Processing in External Affairs. Her team processes all biographic, membership and gift transactions for UCLA.
After hours: She’s an R&B-and-soul-singing diva who blew away thousands with her dynamite a capella rendition of Alicia Keys’ "Girl on Fire" at UCLA’s ninth annual staff picnic in August.
Inspiration on the radio: "I had a long list of songs I was trying out before landing on ‘Girl on Fire.’ For a few weeks it was Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah,’ which I think is a beautiful song and I spent a good amount of time practicing. My next choice was Destiny’s Child’s ‘Stand Up for Love.’ I sang this song at an audition in college and felt like it was a big enough song. But then I was driving home after work one day and ‘Girl on Fire’ came on the radio and it was an instant no-brainer. It was in my range, I loved the message in the song, and the pace was also great."
Role models and homemade recordings: "I remember being around 5 or 6 and hearing a woman singing in church. Her voice was so beautiful and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I want to sing like her!’ When I was in first grade my parents bought me a cassette recorder for Christmas. I would record myself singing little made-up songs. The downside for my parents is that when I ran out of the blank cassettes I took some of my parents’ cassettes and recorded my songs over their tapes. My dad appreciated this when he was deployed to Saudi Arabia , though, and had the shock of hearing my voice."
Soundtrack to being a family: "On Saturday mornings my dad would wake up and put a record on and it would be our theme music to clean the house to. My mom also participated in this, though their musical tastes were a little different. My mom liked country music and my dad was more into Motown. On Sunday mornings, instead of an alarm. my parents would blast a capella gospel music through the house. Even though I was not a morning person, the musical wake-up call made the process a little easier."
Bravely stepping into the spotlight: "When I went to college at Pepperdine I joined a gospel choir for a year. We performed at a few events on campus. Senior year, I took a beginning singing class — I had to sing a few scales, warm-up drills and in-class performances. To this point, I had primarily participated in singing groups as a background member, in part because I had stage fright. I decided that to overcome this fear I needed to do something out of my comfort zone. I tried out for a small musical production, the Multi-Cultural Theatre Project, and had my first solo. It was a nerve-wracking, yet exciting, experience."
Private audiences: "After I graduated, I continued to participate in a small singing group at church for two years. Now I just sing around my place for fun. I also enjoy writing songs. I find inspiration from random things. I once wrote a wake-up song for a friend. I have never even done what I would consider real karaoke, like going to a karaoke bar."
Favorite artists: "I enjoy listening to a variety of music, and there is something about a song that makes it easier to get through the day. I also enjoy discovering new songs and artists. Tamar Braxton is the latest that I absolutely love. Her vocal range and strength are insane. My favorite kind of music is R&B/Neo Soul/Soul. I love Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Adele, Pixie Lott, Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé and Jessie J. They all have amazing vocal range and strength. I once had a dream that I was in a sing-off with Patti LaBelle and I won. It was the best dream ever … but then I woke up."
Practice makes perfect: "I spent at least two weeks practicing ‘Girl on Fire.’ I would record myself on my phone to hear what I needed to work on or change. I also looked at other covers of the song on YouTube to get more ideas on ways I could mix it up. After the performance my co-workers were all proud of me. It was awesome to look into the crowd and see the familiar faces smiling back at me — it really helped ease my nerves. It was one of those moments where I looked around at the amazing people I work with and thought, ‘what more could I ask for?’"
Proud to share her vocal talents: "When I worked at Pepperdine in 2007 I sang ‘At Last’ by Etta James for my boss’s wedding reception. No one knew I could sing so they were all shocked. My best friend is getting married in January and I am going to sing a song to her and her husband as a part of my wedding gift to them. I now need to find a good song."