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The Wedding Singer

Tarsha Murphy finds the beauty of music in everything and 'every motion'

TARSHA MURPHY says music steers her soul, but, really, it’s her soothing soul that guides the room in which she sings.

“I’ve been singing since I was in my mom’s womb,” she says. “It flows through me. It’s in me all the time. I do it in my sleep.”

Murphy grew up singing with her family of first sopranos and at her church in Bladen County, about one hour away from Wilmington. In her early teens, she valued the depth of her uniquely high vocal range, although never – to her current listeners’ surprise – took voice lessons. She only began truly employing her musical talent after spotting an ad on Craigslist for a lead vocalist audition.

The band-to-be gave her a few songs to try – some pop songs and two Aretha Franklin classics.

“When they (the other band members) heard me sing ‘Chain of Fools,’ it was like, ‘Okay yeah, this is awesome,’” Murphy recalls. “We’ve been hitting notes together ever since.”

Today, the group goes by PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN, a popular band booked for weddings, corporate events, and festivals, managed by TIM MEYER.

Murphy leads the six-to-eight–piece group as the only woman on the stage. If you meet her in a coffee shop, as I did to learn more about her career, perhaps you might describe her as shy and soft-spoken. But, when you see her in a performance, as I have at many local weddings, you feel the pure energy of each note she masters.

On most days, before the party starts, Murphy works as a counselor at a halfway house. Then, sometime in between raising a teenager and singing for the band, she studies at Cape Fear Community College, with plans to transfer to UNCW for a degree in music.

“The teachers are so encouraging,” she says. “It’s amazing how they push and challenge you. I believe I can sing anything … but, I love the challenge.”

In addition to the soul, funk, and pop music played by Port City Shakedown, her studies at the college allow Murphy to explore new genres such as opera and classical. Though, her all-time favorite tunes include music by artists Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday.

“It’s amazing what you can do with your voice,” Tarsha Murphy says. “Me, personally, I can’t see my life without music. That’s how I know it’s my purpose. It’s about how the music makes other people feel.”

Brides and grooms trust Murphy and the other members of the Port City Shakedown to deliver a special wedding music experience.

“Our music is such a small part of what we add to their day, but it does touch my heart when I see them enjoy what we bring,” she says. “I know I have to give my best no matter what. I’ve got to deliver – they feel that. It’s very important to have my spirit right.”

Much like her work as a counselor, Murphy is very conscious of the attitude she brings to her work as a vocalist, sometimes compartmentalizing possible emotions that would affect the listeners’ experience. It’s all about “the feeling,” she emphasizes.

“We bring passion and feel for the love of music,” Murphy says. “There’s at least six of us, and we are in unison on everything. Sometimes, I’m just blown away by these guys. You can feel that through their instruments. I really do love what I do.”

Even when she’s talking to inmates as a counselor, Murphy often reverts to music. “I make the beauty of music be about everything,” she says. “There is a song for every motion. You can always find that song to connect with.”

Since studying music, Murphy has begun writing her own songs, and she has musical dreams that would take her beyond Wilmington.

“I love the work I do with Port City Shakedown, but I can’t cap it there,” she says. “I’d love to be a professional singer that travels.”

With limited live music options in Bladen County, Murphy first looked to Wilmington to explore her passion. Now, she travels to Durham or Raleigh on her days off from work to check out other music scenes.

She often takes her daughter to some of her performances or other concerts, to show her that she can be “whatever she wants to be.”

“For me, right now, there’s no limit,” Murphy says. “I’m open and preparing for everything.”  


To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to michaelclinephoto.com.


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