Diamond Sparks found her voice when she was five years old. At the time, she had no idea that the discovery was the first step in a life-changing journey, but ten years later, the Fairfield teen has plans to sing her way to the other side of the globe.
The Alabama School of Fine Arts student was recently chosen as a finalist for the Honors Performance Series Choir. The Honors Performance Series, which brings together talented teens from all over the country to perform in venues like Carnegie Hall, is operated by WorldStrides, a Virginia-based company which provides educational travel opportunities to students.
This July, the choir is scheduled to sing at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The venue, known worldwide for its unique architectural design, has previously hosted musicians and speakers like Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and Nelson Mandela. And Sparks is set to take the stage.
The trip is just the next stop on Sparks’ musical journey, which began when she asked her mother for a Fantasia Barrino album. “She gave me the CD that day, and I started listening to all the songs on it,” Sparks said. “And one day I was singing, and my mom, she came up to me and she said, ‘You don’t sound half bad.’” Shortly thereafter, the five-year-old began singing songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Precious Lord” in her church.
She continued to sing over the next decade, refining her voice and picking up genres as she went. Now, she enjoys jazz, R&B, and gospel, and she studies classical music at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, where she has been a student for three years.
“I tried out for my seventh-grade year [and] didn’t get accepted,” she said. ASFA’s acceptance process includes both a written application and an in-person audition, and Sparks decided that she didn’t want to try a second time. “I kind of lost faith in that, and so the second year I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it again’.”
But her grandmother, Mary Willis, was convinced that the school was important for Sparks’ music. She refused to let her granddaughter give up. “So I just felt that she needed that, and that’s why I pushed her to do it,” Willis said. “And she did it, and she made it.”
Sparks has lived with her grandmother since she lost her parents; her father died in 2010 and her mother in 2016. “It’s an honor to be her grandmother, and I’m very proud of her,” Willis said, calling Sparks “a joy.”
While Sparks credits voice teacher Laura Doss at ASFA for pushing her in her music, it was her former instructor, Ruth Randall-Eaton, who nominated her for the Honors Performance Series Choir. “She said she gets this every year in the mail, and she decided this year to nominate me,” Sparks said. “So once I got it in the mail, I auditioned, and they accepted me as a finalist.”
The trip will be a first for Sparks, who has never before flown or traveled out of the United States, and the thought of taking such a long trip on her own was originally intimidating. But it wasn’t long before she came to an understanding with herself. “For a second I was scared,” she said, “but then I was like, ‘Don’t think about stuff like that. This is a great opportunity. You’re going to have fun, enjoy yourself, and do something that you love to do, so don’t even focus on the bad things that could happen. … Just enjoy yourself and live in the moment.’”
In addition to meeting with the conductors and working on the music, Sparks is excited about one aspect of the trip in particular. “Sight-seeing,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to seeing the wildlife in Australia. While the cost of the trip will be roughly $6,000, Sparks has already received a donation of $1,000 from the Couples Club of Birmingham, and her GoFundMe page has raised over half of the needed funds.
Although she has only just finished the tenth grade, Sparks is already thinking toward her future education. Some of the schools on her list include Howard University and Tennessee State. “I want to go to college and continue with my music,” she said, adding that she hasn’t decided what her minor will be. But she has considered pursuing medicine after earning her four-year degree.
“When I was younger with my dad, he always talked about school,” she said, “because education was something big for us.” When she told her father of her love of children, he suggested that she become a pediatrician. “And so, that has been something in the back of my mind that I always wanted to do,” she added.
At sixteen, though, she realizes that her options are wide open. “I want to do performance,” she said. “But then again, you never know what God has planned for it.”
Whatever the plan is, Sparks is ready and willing to go where the road ahead takes her — even if it takes her to the other side of the world.
The Honors Performance Series in Sydney will take place July 7-12. To contribute to Sparks’ trip, send a check to Diamond Sparks, P.O. Box 672 Fairfield, AL 35064, or visit her GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/diamonds-australia-fund.