Soldotna singer's music takes flight

On the Wings of a song

Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2000

"Fly high. Spread your wings and fly. So high."

Like the words of the song on her first CD, Sherry Morris of Soldotna is finding her voice taking flight and her musical career gaining altitude. The inspirational lyrics of the 10-tune "Sherry -- On the Wings" are grounded in the singer's spiritual beliefs. Backed with a mixture of big band Latin sound, gospel, rhythm and blues, country, pop and praise, they were produced and arranged locally, by Harlan Gambal, also of Soldotna.

"I want to be able to sing songs that make a difference," Morris said. "I don't want to just be an entertainer."

The response she's receiving and the performance schedule that's quickly filling are proof that Morris' message is coming through loud and clear. Having just returned from concerts in Utah and Nevada, she is scheduled to appear on a Dallas television station in January.

She's working on a second CD with Harlan, which they expect to complete by mid-2001, and is considering winter concerts in Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Alaska.

As the Alaska tour coordinator for Emmaus Tours, a Florida-based tour company that specializes in trips to Israel and makes side trips to Egypt and Greece, Morris also is scheduled to perform in Jerusalem and on a cruise ship sailing the waters off Greece.

Her recently launched World Wide Web site -- www.sherrymorris.com -- gives listeners an opportunity to let the singer know what they think of her music. Others are communicating with her through letters and phone calls.

But success hasn't come overnight for the Soldotna musician.

"I started singing at 2 years old in front of a congregation," said Morris, who was born in Denver in 1964.

Her parents, Ray and Sharon Ansel, live in Soldotna, where her father is pastor of Trinity Christian Center. At 6, Morris sang "Put Your Hand In the Hand Of the Man" for a Paul Harvey special event in Salt Lake City. At 7, she sang for the Miss Utah pageant. At 14, she auditioned for a Disney production in Utah. Complete with her own agent, she performed with several groups, including the Knudsen Brothers, the Jarnagin Singers, Brunson Brothers, Bus Whittaker and Keri Summers.

 

Photo courtesy of Sherry Morris

"I even sang as an opener for Crystal Gayle," Morris said.

At 15, she and her mom made an album.

With the added experience of modeling and television commercials, the teen-ager was well on her way to center stage. However, while performing with Jedidiah's Outdoor Chuck Wagon Show, the young performer witnessed an unpleasant side of performing.

"One night I was just singing my heart out," said Morris of her rendition of "To God Be the Glory."

Some people in the crowd started mocking the singer and making fun of the song.

"I hadn't done anything wrong, but I remember just running and hiding and crying," she said.

After that, her parents applied the brakes to her quickly accelerating career.

At 17, a week before she received an invitation to participate in the Miss Utah competition, Morris made a move that impacted the direction she was headed.

"There were bankers getting ready for me to try out for the pageant," she said, "but I changed their minds. I got married."

As soon as she and childhood sweetheart Gary Morris wed, the couple headed to Russellville, Ark., where Gary attended college on a football scholarship.

Morris sang, modeled, sold Tupperware, baby-sat and worked at a clothing store. At one point, the couple earned an extra $100 a month by cleaning diesel trucks every other weekend for the city. During Gary's senior year in college, he worked in a pizza restaurant.

"We ate leftover pizza when we were broke," Morris said. Laughing, she added. "It seemed like we ate pizza forever."

Between 1983 and 1991, the couple had their four children -- Houston, Nate, Sharae and Sarah. During the summers, the young family visited Morris' parents, who had moved to the Kenai Peninsula. While visiting, Gary worked as a contractor for Unocal, eventually becoming an employee and now working for Agrium.

Through his employment, he met Gambal. Born in Ohio in 1953, Gambal began playing the piano when he was 4, started playing the guitar when he was 9 and formed his first band when he was 14. At 17, he came to Alaska. He has opened for such groups as Little Feat, Tower of Power, Charlie Daniel's Band, Sawyer Brown and Toby Keith. He has toured the West Coast, the Midwest and Canada and played Las Vegas and Reno.

After opening for the musical duo Brooks and Dunn in Anchorage a couple of years ago, Gambal decided to give up performing.

"I got tired of going to bars and doing the club scene," he said of his performance schedule. "Times are changing and clubs just aren't what they used to be. Either that or I'm getting too old for it."

Wanting to stay in the music industry, he set up a studio and planned to record his own music.

"But it ended up that I took on this project with Sherry, and I've really had fun doing it," he said. "I miss the playing, but the fun I'm having in the studio more than makes up for it."

Gambal, who knows his way around the organ, keyboard, base and piano, said the CD was an experiment. Morris, who also plays the piano, would come up with the words and melody and hand it over to him.

"I'd come up with ideas for arranging and run it by Sherry," he said. "If she liked it, we'd put it down on tape. It was pretty much a collaboration. In my opinion, it turned out really great. We both took our time and just put our nose to the grindstone."

Speaking from experience, Gambal considers Morris a "great writer."

"She's a bundle of energy and always fun to work with," he said. "She's full of fresh ideas, and we get along great. I really appreciate her energy and the freshness she puts in the music.

"She's excited about it all the time. I really need that. It brings out the creativity in me."

Gambal, who also is working on projects with other local talent, predicts Morris will do well.

"She's having fun with it. More power to her," he said. "It's just a matter of time for her. She'll go somewhere. She hasn't even tapped most of her energy."

Giving credit where credit's due, Morris also had praise for Gambal.

"I sing it or play it for him and he just makes it sound awesome," she said. "He said the next (CD) will be better because he's figured me out."

Friends and family also have jumped in to offer help. Some sing back up. Some suggest lyrics.

"We were just sitting around her dining room table one day and she was trying to write a new song," said Donna Lohrke of Kenai. "I came up with some words for her."

On another occasion, Morris' request wasn't quite so relaxed.

"She was in the recording studio and a line wasn't working so she called me and said, 'I'm in the recording studio, I've got two minutes, give me a line,'" Lohrke said. "And I thought, 'My gosh, talk about pressure.'"

Lohrke, who is more familiar with poetry and has had several poems published, said she and Morris have been friends since they met in 1994.

"I'll do anything Sherry needs me to do to help her," she said. "I wish her all the luck in the world. She's a wonderful person and a wonderful singer."

Friends also are opening doors in other communities.

"We've got good friends helping promote her in different areas," said husband Gary. "And we've got a good friend in Fairbanks trying to get her on the radio. He definitely said we could get a concert up there."

Tim Anderson, manager of the music department at Fred Meyer in Soldotna, has copies of "Sherry -- On The Wings" in stock and hosted an in-store CD and photo signing in October to help boost sales.

"It went real well," said Anderson, who already is planning to help promote Sherry's next CD.

"Just the words from it will make you shiver," Anderson said. "Sherry's going to go far. She's got the good lord on her side, and she's going to be big. Just wait and see."

Gary Harris, at Good Books and More in Kenai, also sells the CD.

"She's got a very nice voice," he said. "It sounds very professional, and I can see her doing very well."

The support of family comes in many guises. Her father-in-law, a preacher and musician, offers input long-distance from his East Texas home.

"A lot of times I start a song and then ask him, 'What can I do here?' and he'll give me ideas," Morris said. "We send verses back and forth."

With an increasing concert schedule, covering the home base becomes a joint project.

"We fortunately have a lot of family here," her husband said. "We can let the kids stay with them."

Gary, who confessed he is not a fan of air travel and prefers going by bus, said he is helping manage his wife's career.

"Neither Sherry nor I are really well-seasoned in this business as far as how it works," he said. "I did get a book titled 'Everything You Need To Know About the Music Business.' It sits right by my bed."

While the music business might not be second nature, the Morrises' ability to write music seems to come naturally.

"It's easy for her, or it seems to be easy for her," Gary said. "She's got a large notebook of things she's working on. If she finished everything that she's got in there, she could do another five CDs.

"All of her songs are positive," he said. "She always portrays a good message. It's kind of neat how she does it. The songs are like messages or stories."

However, Morris considers her writing an answer to a prayer.

"I can't just sit down and write," she said. "Something has to inspire me. The whole thing is a blessing."

And the icing on the cake is being able to share the message.

"I want to minister to people's hearts," she said. "I have to sing songs that mean something."

For now, commitment to family is helping Morris decide which opportunities and invitations to take advantage of.

"I've been asked to go all kinds of places," she said, "but my kids are still young. So I'm scheduling my time with their time."

As the words in one of her most frequently requested songs, "Coming Home," suggests, home also is a channel for inspiration for this Kenai Peninsula artist.

"No matter how far I've gone away from you, you never left me standing alone. I'm coming home."

BYLINE1:By McKIBBEN JACKINSKY

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

"Fly high. Spread your wings and fly. So high."

Like the words of the song on her first CD, Sherry Morris of Soldotna is finding her voice taking flight and her musical career gaining altitude. The inspirational lyrics of the 10-tune "Sherry -- On the Wings" are grounded in the singer's spiritual beliefs. Backed with a mixture of big band Latin sound, gospel, rhythm and blues, country, pop and praise, they were produced and arranged locally, by Harlan Gambal, also of Soldotna.

"I want to be able to sing songs that make a difference," Morris said. "I don't want to just be an entertainer."

The response she's receiving and the performance schedule that's quickly filling are proof that Morris' message is coming through loud and clear. Having just returned from concerts in Utah and Nevada, she is scheduled to appear on a Dallas television station in January.

She's working on a second CD with Harlan, which they expect to complete by mid-2001, and is considering winter concerts in Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Alaska.

As the Alaska tour coordinator for Emmaus Tours, a Florida-based tour company that specializes in trips to Israel and makes side trips to Egypt and Greece, Morris also is scheduled to perform in Jerusalem and on a cruise ship sailing the waters off Greece.

Her recently launched World Wide Web site -- www.sherrymorris.com -- gives listeners an opportunity to let the singer know what they think of her music. Others are communicating with her through letters and phone calls.

But success hasn't come overnight for the Soldotna musician.

"I started singing at 2 years old in front of a congregation," said Morris, who was born in Denver in 1964.

Her parents, Ray and Sharon Ansel, live in Soldotna, where her father is pastor of Trinity Christian Center. At 6, Morris sang "Put Your Hand In the Hand Of the Man" for a Paul Harvey special event in Salt Lake City. At 7, she sang for the Miss Utah pageant. At 14, she auditioned for a Disney production in Utah. Complete with her own agent, she performed with several groups, including the Knudsen Brothers, the Jarnagin Singers, Brunson Brothers, Bus Whittaker and Keri Summers.

"I even sang as an opener for Crystal Gayle," Morris said.

At 15, she and her mom made an album.

With the added experience of modeling and television commercials, the teen-ager was well on her way to center stage. However, while performing with Jedidiah's Outdoor Chuck Wagon Show, the young performer witnessed an unpleasant side of performing.

"One night I was just singing my heart out," said Morris of her rendition of "To God Be the Glory."

Some people in the crowd started mocking the singer and making fun of the song.

"I hadn't done anything wrong, but I remember just running and hiding and crying," she said.

After that, her parents applied the brakes to her quickly accelerating career.

At 17, a week before she received an invitation to participate in the Miss Utah competition, Morris made a move that impacted the direction she was headed.

"There were bankers getting ready for me to try out for the pageant," she said, "but I changed their minds. I got married."

As soon as she and childhood sweetheart Gary Morris wed, the couple headed to Russellville, Ark., where Gary attended college on a football scholarship.

Morris sang, modeled, sold Tupperware, baby-sat and worked at a clothing store. At one point, the couple earned an extra $100 a month by cleaning diesel trucks every other weekend for the city. During Gary's senior year in college, he worked in a pizza restaurant.

"We ate leftover pizza when we were broke," Morris said. Laughing, she added. "It seemed like we ate pizza forever."

Between 1983 and 1991, the couple had their four children -- Houston, Nate, Sharae and Sarah. During the summers, the young family visited Morris' parents, who had moved to the Kenai Peninsula. While visiting, Gary worked as a contractor for Unocal, eventually becoming an employee and now working for Agrium.

Through his employment, he met Gambal. Born in Ohio in 1953, Gambal began playing the piano when he was 4, started playing the guitar when he was 9 and formed his first band when he was 14. At 17, he came to Alaska. He has opened for such groups as Little Feat, Tower of Power, Charlie Daniel's Band, Sawyer Brown and Toby Keith. He has toured the West Coast, the Midwest and Canada and played Las Vegas and Reno.

After opening for the musical duo Brooks and Dunn in Anchorage a couple of years ago, Gambal decided to give up performing.

"I got tired of going to bars and doing the club scene," he said of his performance schedule. "Times are changing and clubs just aren't what they used to be. Either that or I'm getting too old for it."

Wanting to stay in the music industry, he set up a studio and planned to record his own music.

"But it ended up that I took on this project with Sherry, and I've really had fun doing it," he said. "I miss the playing, but the fun I'm having in the studio more than makes up for it."

Gambal, who knows his way around the organ, keyboard, base and piano, said the CD was an experiment. Morris, who also plays the piano, would come up with the words and melody and hand it over to him.

"I'd come up with ideas for arranging and run it by Sherry," he said. "If she liked it, we'd put it down on tape. It was pretty much a collaboration. In my opinion, it turned out really great. We both took our time and just put our nose to the grindstone."

Speaking from experience, Gambal considers Morris a "great writer."

"She's a bundle of energy and always fun to work with," he said. "She's full of fresh ideas, and we get along great. I really appreciate her energy and the freshness she puts in the music.

"She's excited about it all the time. I really need that. It brings out the creativity in me."

Gambal, who also is working on projects with other local talent, predicts Morris will do well.

"She's having fun with it. More power to her," he said. "It's just a matter of time for her. She'll go somewhere. She hasn't even tapped most of her energy."

Giving credit where credit's due, Morris also had praise for Gambal.

"I sing it or play it for him and he just makes it sound awesome," she said. "He said the next (CD) will be better because he's figured me out."

Friends and family also have jumped in to offer help. Some sing back up. Some suggest lyrics.

"We were just sitting around her dining room table one day and she was trying to write a new song," said Donna Lohrke of Kenai. "I came up with some words for her."

On another occasion, Morris' request wasn't quite so relaxed.

"She was in the recording studio and a line wasn't working so she called me and said, 'I'm in the recording studio, I've got two minutes, give me a line,'" Lohrke said. "And I thought, 'My gosh, talk about pressure.'"

Lohrke, who is more familiar with poetry and has had several poems published, said she and Morris have been friends since they met in 1994.

"I'll do anything Sherry needs me to do to help her," she said. "I wish her all the luck in the world. She's a wonderful person and a wonderful singer."

Friends also are opening doors in other communities.

"We've got good friends helping promote her in different areas," said husband Gary. "And we've got a good friend in Fairbanks trying to get her on the radio. He definitely said we could get a concert up there."

Tim Anderson, manager of the music department at Fred Meyer in Soldotna, has copies of "Sherry -- On The Wings" in stock and hosted an in-store CD and photo signing in October to help boost sales.

"It went real well," said Anderson, who already is planning to help promote Sherry's next CD.

"Just the words from it will make you shiver," Anderson said. "Sherry's going to go far. She's got the good lord on her side, and she's going to be big. Just wait and see."

Gary Harris, at Good Books and More in Kenai, also sells the CD.

"She's got a very nice voice," he said. "It sounds very professional, and I can see her doing very well."

The support of family comes in many guises. Her father-in-law, a preacher and musician, offers input long-distance from his East Texas home.

"A lot of times I start a song and then ask him, 'What can I do here?' and he'll give me ideas," Morris said. "We send verses back and forth."

With an increasing concert schedule, covering the home base becomes a joint project.

"We fortunately have a lot of family here," her husband said. "We can let the kids stay with them."

Gary, who confessed he is not a fan of air travel and prefers going by bus, said he is helping manage his wife's career.

"Neither Sherry nor I are really well-seasoned in this business as far as how it works," he said. "I did get a book titled 'Everything You Need To Know About the Music Business.' It sits right by my bed."

While the music business might not be second nature, the Morrises' ability to write music seems to come naturally.

"It's easy for her, or it seems to be easy for her," Gary said. "She's got a large notebook of things she's working on. If she finished everything that she's got in there, she could do another five CDs.

"All of her songs are positive," he said. "She always portrays a good message. It's kind of neat how she does it. The songs are like messages or stories."

However, Morris considers her writing an answer to a prayer.

"I can't just sit down and write," she said. "Something has to inspire me. The whole thing is a blessing."

And the icing on the cake is being able to share the message.

"I want to minister to people's hearts," she said. "I have to sing songs that mean something."

For now, commitment to family is helping Morris decide which opportunities and invitations to take advantage of.

"I've been asked to go all kinds of places," she said, "but my kids are still young. So I'm scheduling my time with their time."

As the words in one of her most frequently requested songs, "Coming Home," suggests, home also is a channel for inspiration for this Kenai Peninsula artist.

"No matter how far I've gone away from you, you never left me standing alone. I'm coming home."



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