Avery*Sunshine set for Essence Festival debut

July 6, 2013 - 11:35 PM
2013 Essence Music Festival Concert - Day 1

James Todd Smith, known as LL Cool J, stops bye the pressroom on Day 1 of the 2013 Essence Music Festival at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday, July 5, 2013 in New Orleans. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Avery(asterisk)Sunshine may be a new voice to some, but the 38-year-old Atlanta artist hopes more fans will be saying her name after her debut performance Saturday at the Essence Festival.

Her self-titled first project was released in 2010. Three years later, its singles "Ugly Side of Me," ''All in My Head" and "Blessin Me" have gained a strong following and heavy radio play.

"We're completely independent," said Avery(asterisk)Sunshine, whose real name is Denise White. "It's been one fan, one show, one tweet at a time. And now it's snowballing.

"This is a big deal for us to play Essence," she said. "Most of the country still has no idea who we are. There are so many who haven't heard the material and for me, this kind of invitation to perform means someone is paying attention to what I'm doing. I'm honored to have this opportunity."

At her set inside one of the festival's Superlounges — music venues set up in the Superdome's huge corridors — White was surrounded by family, including her 75-year-old mother, 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.

"To see everyone in the audience singing along with 'Ugly Part of Me,' was just ... Wow. I mean I had to hold back the tears as I saw my mom observing all of that. This experience was just nuts, electric and more than I ever expected."

Solange, Keyshia Cole, Trey Songz, Charlie Wilson and New Edition performed on the festival's main stage.

Avery(asterisk)Sunshine said she's never attended Essence during its 19 years.

"I'm nervous and excited at the same time," she said before the show. "But honestly, I'm even more nervous about what I'm going to wear."

She chose all black — skin-tight leggings with a light trapeze-style blouse showing her shoulders — for the performance, which she described as one of the best they've ever had.

The accomplished pianist plays the instrument at all of her shows and she said finding an outfit that's eye-catching and comfortable is often an issue.

"I've got to find a way to get up from that keyboard and move around the stage more," she said, laughing. "It'll give fans another visual."

Avery(asterisk)Sunshine has played keyboard with Tyler Perry's productions and has worked on a couple of soundtracks, including "The Fighting Temptations."

"I play OK," she said, modestly. "I'm not Herbie Hancock," she added, laughing.

White said she and her writing partner, Dana Johnson, who's also a guitarist in the band, are "very close" to finishing their second project. It includes a duet with Musiq Soulchild and a song the pair wrote that Musiq produced.

"I'm super excited," she said, though she didn't have an actual release date. "We may do an extended play release. We just haven't decided at this point."