Columbia Missourian Symonne Sparks has always been involved in a variety of mid-Missouri musical projects. She plays with Columbia soul-fusion band Loose Loose, performs classical music, and she has two NFL performances of the National Anthem under her belt to boot.
Sparks spoke with Janet Saidi on The Check-In about turning to music in hard times, and the connection she has to the songs she performs. Their conversation came shortly after Sparks' performance of J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson's song "Lift Every Voice and Sing" for the University of Missouri School of Music's Facebook page. The song has deep roots in Black culture, and it has often been called "The Black National Anthem."
"It's really a staple throughout the Black community," Sparks said on The Check-In. "In moments of reverence, even in moments of remembrance, in moments of sadness, in moments if triumph. Whatever that was, then this was the song. This was the heart, it was the hope, it was whatever you needed for that moment. And that continues through the generations."
Sparks' musical influence and background are just as varied as her output. She started singing in church as a child, before moving to singing opera for the Opera Theater of St. Louis. Her work with the band Loose Loose also brings in elements of funk, soul, and hip-hop. She first came to Columbia when she enrolled at the University of Missouri to pursue a degree in music.
In her personal time during lockdown Sparks has continued to explore and expand her musical repertoire.
"(I'm) listening to a lot of artists who decide to follow the passion that call them this year. There's a different freedom to what's being created," she said. She's also been sitting in behind the scenes for new music by local musicians and members of Loose Loose.
When asked to perform The National Anthem at an NFL game, she first had some trepidation performing it, due to the practice of kneeling in protest during the song started by Colin Kaepernick. She decided to perform anyway, and she said she hopes the context and conversation around the song can change along with the country.
"I think that it's a mindset shift," she said. "The reason for the protests [...] is not the song itself. It creates room for the protest."
You can listen to both of Symonne Sparks' National Anthem performances on her YouTube channel, or follow her on Instagram @symonnesparks.