Whitney Houston's recent death rocked the world of Shuree Rivera, a promising young pop singer who releases her debut album in March. Shuree (she goes by her first name as an artist), like so many young girls, was inspired by Houston to start singing in the first place.
But Shuree may relate to the late diva more than others. Houston's life was marred by drug problems and a rocky marriage. Shuree grew up in a broken home where domestic violence and substance abuse were the norm; she lost a 21-year-old sister to an overdose.
"Growing up, all four of us [children] faced abuse of all kinds," Shuree says. "Our parents would fistfight in our home and out on the street, and drug and alcohol abuse was all around us. We all had to make a choice how we were going to handle our own personal pain."
On her blog, Shuree wrote, "There were many painful abusive situations I faced as a child. I remember when the darkness tried to overtake my existence as young woman. I remember wishing that I was dead. What stopped me from hurting myself? The Word of God." On another blog post, she wrote a poem about her mother that includes these lines:
Childhood abuse screwed you mentally
making you a mom who couldn't see
a new day had begun
but the demons of your past seemed to always come
You locked yourself up when your bipolar hit
Daddy and you began to split
A past of pain, regrets, and no love tore up your soul
and made you turn to drugs
I never knew you were an addict before
and this was how you coped before I was born
5 kids later we all wait for the day
when we'll have our mother
and her demons are slayed
We're all waitin for a little love
but all we keep gettin is our mamma's drug
Through faith and persistence, Shuree has risen above her circumstances. The first single from her new album is called "One Girl (Can Change the World)"—and she really believes it.
"I know from my own life that your past does not dictate your future," Shuree says while sipping on a steaming cup of joe at Filter coffeehouse in Chicago. "Every great superhero has a point in their life where they experience heartbreak or disaster or loss, and out of that grew strength and courage. That's what they used to change the world."
To combat the darkness of her childhood, Shuree turned to her hopes and dreams—music.
"When times got really bad, I would hide in my closet and sing to myself," says Shuree, who, inspired by Houston, started singing at the age of 7. "I would pretend that I was being interviewed by a talk-show host, telling them about my childhood and how I made it through. It was like I was preparing for the day when I got out and could tell my story."
Now, nearly two decades later, Shuree's story is being told with the help of Grammy-nominated producer Oh, Hush! on an upbeat studio album, Broken Is Beautiful. The project provides listeners a glimpse into songs of a heart set free from the pain of the past.
Shuree developed a heart for ministry during while at Nyack College in New York. As she reached out to at-risk youth on the streets and listened to their stories of dysfunctional families, she realized that her own painful past, hundreds of miles away in Columbus, Ohio, was not much different from the lives of youth in the Bronx.
"I really felt convicted to be a role model for them," Shuree said. "I didn't want to be a pop star that just gave teenagers another song that would cause them to shake their booty or get pregnant at the age of 16."
Shuree says Houston, Cyndi Lauper, and Mariah Carey have been major influences, though her Christian faith has always been her central focus. Today, she leads worship at Compass Church in Naperville, Ill., and sings on the worship team at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Ill. She also works as a background singer, writes songs with EMI in Nashville, performs, and speaks at youth conferences. And, oh yeah, she made an irresistibly catchy video for Fanta.
Her producer, Oh Hush!, says that Christian music is often "three or four years behind what's happening in the mainstream," but that Shuree is cutting edge. "It's not real safe vanilla typical stuff you typically hear. We're keeping it competitive with what's happening in the mainstream instead of playing it safe and doing what's been done before.
"She wants to inspire people. I've written songs with major label artists who have gold records on their walls, and I'd put Shuree's single ["One Girl"] up with any other ones I've written. It's an empowering song; it's a message people need to hear."
Shuree will showcase her talents and promote her new album April 14 at Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church, opening for Rebecca St. James on the "Purity & Worship Tour."
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