Long before New Orleans jazz musician Ellis Marsalis Jr. referred to her talent as “a treat,” Terri Jackson, the Nappie winner for Best Theatrical Singer, was performing Michael Jackson hits as a second grader in Mobile. Jackson said she became aware of her own talent and love for singing while listening to Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album.
“I sang along to it,” she said. “I noticed I didn’t really sound like a kid. I sounded like an adult.”
Her fondness for all kinds of music expanded early on into a yearning to perform. As a fifth-grader she wrote, starred in and directed her own play, which her teacher let the class perform, she said.
“I guess the teacher wanted some time off,” Jackson joked. “I think she was glad to be out of the classroom.”
COMPLETE LIST — 2017 NAPPIE AWARDS
Jackson learned a lot about musicals in the 1980s, when she learned of auditions for “Annie” on Broadway. Obviously she didn’t audition since she was in Mobile and not New York, but she was inspired by the fact that many of the actors auditioning for roles in the musical were her age.
“It sparked something,” she said. “I saw a kid … on stage on Broadway.”
After graduating from Davidson High School, Jackson attended Dillard University in New Orleans, where she took a music appreciation course and the instructor asked her to sing with the school’s jazz band one year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
After graduating from the historically black liberal arts college with a degree in mass communication, Jackson was struck by the pervasive culture of New Orleans, and made it her home for 11 years.
“The arts scene was the main reason I stayed,” she said. “In New Orleans, you’re totally immersed in different cultures. They’re a gumbo.”
It was different from Mobile, she said, where arts and cultural events at that time were more sporadic and scattershot. But Jackson returned to Mobile in 2001, shortly after her daughter was born, to be close to family.
While she appreciates listening to all kinds of music because a “good song is a good song,” Jackson said her favorite tunes to sing come from jazz.
“I like the improvisational aspects of it,” she said.
Jackson performs with the Joe Jefferson Playhouse, the Chickasaw Civic Theatre and the Mobile Theatre Guild. Her most recent performance was as Justice Charlier in the JJP performance of “Rock of Ages.”
Her favorite performance was a two-part role in a Mobile Theatre Guild production of “The Colored Museum.” She got to play a talking wig named Janine, which argues with another wig, and Ms. Pat, a flight attendant who took unsuspecting passengers to America during the slave trade.
Of Mobile’s live theater scene, Jackson said the talent would surprise people.
“There’s a lot of local talent,” she said. “A lot of them were on the list of [Nappie] nominees.”