When Stacy Francis sings, her voice soars effortlessly, ranging from a rich contralto to the high pure sounds of a coloratura. One audience member likened her near-five-octave range to "peering up at the heavens on a crisp, clear evening and finding one star that's brighter than all the rest." Francis gives credit to God.
Stacy Francis is currently starring as Samantha Summers, a musical bad girl who becomes an overnight sensation in Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro's Born to Sing! (Union Square Theatre), the follow-up to their celebrated musicals Mama, I Want to Sing and Mama, I Want to Sing/Part II.
Like so many R&B champions, Francis's talent is rooted in religion. She has been singing in the church since she was five years old and started traveling with her pastor uncle during his summer preaching tours throughout the South. Her early years in Brownsville, Brooklyn, were spent with a kindly but strict godmother whose musical tastes ran from church singing to Sam Cooke.
It took a friend's urging to convince 15-year-old Francis to audition for Mama, I Want to Sing in 1987. She knew she could sing but lacked confidence, because Erasmus High School had initially rejected her talents, later assigning her to the alto section in the school choir. "To be honest, I didn't even know I was a soprano until Mama's musical director hit the high part of the keyboard and said, 'Sing this note!' I was going, 'I can't do that.' He was going, 'Yes, you can.'
"When I first got into the show, I wasn't even good enough to do leads. They had me in the choir forever, and I kept saying, 'I want to do leads. I want to do leads.' Vy kept saying, 'Just like in the show, your time will come. Just wait for it.' "
While she waited, Francis began to transform herself. She was overweight and needed braces. She got the braces, studied to be a certified weight trainer and lost 40 pounds, then went on to take over the lead role of Doris Winter, touring nationally and internationally both in Mama, I Want to Sing and Mama/Part II. In 1989 she joined the singing group ExGirlfriend, whose debut album spawned the top five single, "Why Can't You Come Home?" When Mama, I Want to Sing opened in London's West End in 1995, Francis garnered rave reviews, as she has now in N.Y.
Francis is modest about her talents but not about her determination. She taught herself to be a business woman. She studies voice and has started organ and piano lessons. She wants to compose, and she wants another record contract. And every night before she goes to sleep, she thinks about the great things she wants to happen in her life.
"I think about doing award shows," Francis muses, "and audiences standing up at the end of my songs. When I was 17 years old, I had the number three song in the country. Then my attorney died. No one at the record company was listening to us, and we didn't have any cash, and I was wondering how we were going to survive. I was close to a breakdown, and I made the mistake of saying, 'Well, it can't get any worse than this.' The next day I broke my leg. While I was still laying on the ground, I promised myself that I would never say that again.
"Then and only then did I realize that I would have to release the negativity in my life. Sometimes we hold on to things so tightly that it's really not worth it. And it's so hard because your ego wants you to control everything. I surrendered everything to God. That's why I know that nothing is going to happen to my voice. I think I would die. That's how much it means to me. And God knows that. I'm here for a reason."
-- By Starla Smith