Avery*Sunshine on New Album 'Twenty Sixty Four,' Marriage and Divine Intervention

Derek Blanks
Avery*Sunshine & Dana "Big Dane" Johnson

Growing up, Avery*Sunshine recalls that negativity was never an option. “With my parents it was always OK, this is what it is and this is how we figure it out. So it’s not in my DNA to sulk, to not see the bright side.”

That outlook remains intact on Sunshine’s new album Twenty Sixty Four, out today (April 21). On mid-tempo lead single “Come Do Nothing,” the singer/songwriter is “clearing out my mind” while packing an ex-lover’s stuff -- yet still wishing to get back together. “The Ice Cream Song” (“I’d give up ice cream just for you … I’d give you my happy and take your blues”) is the wedding tune she sang last April to her husband and longtime musical partner/guitarist Dana “Big Dane” Johnson. And the Quiet Storm-vibed “Heaven Is Right Here with Me” is a duet with Mr. TalkBox (Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic”). Both “Come Do Nothing” and “The Ice Cream Song” are available on iTunes.

Listen to “Come Do Nothing”.

In fact, Mr. TalkBox is one of several collaborators that Sunshine tapped to help further evolve her sound. In addition to such writers as Eric Roberson (Jill Scott) and Carvin Haggins (Ledisi), she brought in Grammy Award-winning pianist/arranger Ruslan Sirota to craft the album’s live string arrangements. “Other than that, this album is a continuation of The SunRoom,” says Sunshine. “All of my songs are about experiences I’ve dealt with and want to talk about.”

Sunshine’s brand of optimistic, message-driven R&B—coupled with her vibrant, charismatic vocals—has been winning over a growing contingent of fans since the release of 2014’s The SunRoom. Peaking at No. 22 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and No. 11 on R&B Albums, her debut set for Shanachie Entertainment spun off two Adult R&B hit singles: “Call My Name” (No. 1, six weeks, 2014) and “Sweet Afternoon” (No. 13, 2015). A 2010 self-titled independent album gave Sunshine her first top 20 Adult R&B hit with “Ugly Part of Me.” To date, according to Nielsen Music, the singer/songwriter has earned 11.9 million on-demand streams.

That’s in addition to the shout-outs she’s received over the last two years from fans like Aretha Franklin (“I love Avery*Sunshine!”) and Boy George (“Love this woman’s voice”). Plus gigs opening for Babyface at Madison Square Garden, performing for Smokey Robinson at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tribute and singing at Franklin’s birthday party.

During a recent phone interview with Billboard, Sunshine riffed on several other topics:

Meaning behind the album’s title: Dana and I both said we’d never ever, times infinity, get married again. We slapped five on it. Then last year he called and said we’re going to get married. At that moment I saw unicorns and four leaf clovers; I went bonkers. So I prayed and said God if you give me till 2064 with this amazing man—I’ll be 89 and he’ll be 91—I promise I’ll stop cussing, overeating and work out every day.

Her stage moniker: I’m a fan of two amazing characters: Shug Avery from The Color Purple and Sunshine from Harlem Nights [the 1989 film starring Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy]. Dana and I were working on our first song together in 2005 called “Stalker.” It was going to be released in Japan and he asked how I wanted my name to read in the liner notes. It was clearly divine intervention. I was going through my divorce at that time and my spirit, my soul was calling out for some shine.

Staying the course for 10 years: If you work at anything long enough, the universe will see and hear that and things will start to happen. We also have a great team of people that we call “Sunshine Supporters” who are listening to the music and sharing the music. I have to attribute a lot to those folks who have taken us under their wings.

Her bible for the last six months: Maurice White’s My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire helped me through the recording of this album. There are small similarities between what EWF did and what Dana and I do in that we’ve included more bodies, more elements, other energy to this project. Clearly, Maurice was the head of EWF but he was smart in who he brought into the fold for the group’s resulting mixture. I’ve learned to yield to that other energy.