Health crisis lets singer find her voice
By Jessica Laskey
Carol Manson is a singer who soars. Her clear, joyful voice and playful musicianship suggests she’s been singing jazz her whole life. The truth is, she almost never became a singer.
Growing up in Berkeley, Manson played violin and piano, and sang in her high school choir. But music fell by the wayside when she went to college, earned a master’s degree in social work, got married and began a career in state service. She spent years as a foster youth advocate and eventually received a governor’s appointment.
A health challenge in 2004 made her reconsider everything.
“I started having hypertension episodes,” says Manson, a Natomas resident. “No matter what they gave me, my blood pressure wouldn’t go down. I had never been so silent and scared in my entire life. I took seven months off work, but when I went back, I still wasn’t fully well. I didn’t have that fire in the belly. I was operating mentally and spiritually in a different dimension. I started to wonder, ‘Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing?’”
Manson had the chance to answer those questions when she learned she was eligible for early retirement. She took the opportunity—that’s when her next chapter began.
Not fully recovered and unsure how to fill her days, Manson joined her church choir. She sat in the back row, convinced she couldn’t sing. It didn’t take long for her beautiful voice to get noticed. She was asked to sing for a Saturday service and never looked back.
“At the service, the minister asked the new choir members to stand up,” Manson says. “At that moment, the clouds parted and the sun came through the window in the roof of the church. I believe in metaphysical stuff, but this was too much.”
Manson decided music was where the light guided her, so she tried to absorb as much music as she could. Soon, her blood pressure began to decrease. After four months of singing, her doctor asked how she was improving her condition. The answer was obvious: “I had been choking on my voice and didn’t know it.”
Manson pulled out her lesson books from childhood and enrolled in music classes at Sacramento City College. She hired a vocal coach and expanded her repertoire from gospel and inspirational music to jazz. She began to perform regularly with her own group, the Blue Skies Band, and the Sacramento Jazz Coop. She recorded four CDs. She’s now on the SJC board, taking on the role of vice president, and has since been named the group’s chief operating officer.
“People really need music for healing,” Manson says. “It’s good to have the collective wisdom from the SJC board and membership to support live music and educate the public about maintaining the sustainability of traditional jazz.”
Now that in-person events are taking place again, Manson and the Blue Skies Band will be performing at her annual holiday concert Friday, Dec. 10, at Brickhouse Gallery in Oak Park.
She also stays busy with her other passion project, Simon Sudz, a socially conscious handmade soap company named after her late cocker spaniel. Proceeds from soap sales go to causes such as the Breast Cancer Research Fund (Manson is a survivor) and the musicians and arrangers with whom Manson collaborates.
“I’m a living example that it’s never too late,” Manson says. “I said yes to the universe even though I questioned it, but I was mature enough to know how to get myself together. I don’t care where you are in life, you can create what it is you want.”
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.