After winning a 2003 Unity award for her CD “The Chaplet of Divine Mercy,” 16-year-old singer Angelina Davis performed at St. Peter's Square last Christmas Eve during the blessing of the outdoor nativity.
It was a good year for Davis; her CD also was named “Spoken Word Album of the Year” by the United Catholic Music and Video Association. This year, she's only gotten busier, releasing three new works: “Songs of the Faithful,” inspirational tunes about saints; “The Child Within,” selections for children; and “The Faithful,” an 11-song video pilgrimage to sites in Ireland, Italy and Poland. (The latter has been nominated for a 2004 Unity Award.) Davis, a student at the Mississippi School of the Arts, spoke with Register correspondent Lisa Hendey.
How did your singing career begin?
Well, I have been singing since I could talk. Professionally, since I was 9 or so. It all started with a simple request from my grandfather, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. At his request, I began to learn the “Ave Maria.” That was a very big request for a 9-year-old, but I sang it for him six months later, on Christmas night. He died two days later, and that was the last song he heard. A month later, my mom and I decided to start work on a recording of the rosary.
What was it like to sing in St. Peter's Square?
I had been to the Vatican earlier in the year, so I was familiar with the area. The square is beautiful. The nativity was set up larger than life, and the Pope gave the blessing from his window right before I sang a song called “Do You Hear What I Hear?” It was so cold outside that I had to wear my jeans underneath my dress. The most important part was going to Midnight Mass in the basilica. My whole family was teary-eyed when the Pope passed by at the processional. It was a beautiful and blessed time to spend with my family. My mother was born on Christmas Day, so that was extra special, too.
What were some of the highlights of your travels in making the video for “The Faithful”? And what do you hope it will accomplish?
I knew it would take work, but it took a lot of work. We worked 12- to 14-hour days. I had to walk up so many stairs, sit in one position for so long and retake me singing the choruses over and over. It started to become redundant, but the finished product really was (worth the effort). It's a beautiful piece that I can be very proud of.
I told my mom that I really feel I grew so much spiritually during all this filming. I hope this project reaches more people than I can imagine; this video will take people on a mini-pilgrimage through prayer and song. They are going to see the places where people like St. Faustina, St. Francis and my favorite, Saint Pio — who will be my confirmation saint — lived out their humble lives.
There are many videos and shows that already do this, but not like what we have done. I think children and adults will view this and come out with a deeper sense of their faith and hopefully want to change something in their lives.
How challenging is it, as a teen-ager, to remain committed to your Catholic faith while pursuing your dreams and ambitions?
I love my school. Everyone there is so committed to their discipline, whether it be visual arts, drama or music. I love how everyone is accepted in that type of nurturing atmosphere. I think that's why it's actually very easy to keep my faith alive: No one looks down on me for being Catholic in a very Protestant area. It's a very open-minded school where everyone is accepted and not shunned in any way.
Sometimes it can be difficult in a public-school system in the South. I did go to Catholic school up until seventh grade, but I needed the music program for college. I found that changing to public school actually made me more in-depth in my faith, because instead of being told what to learn, I had to ask my own questions — and learn what people around me were asking about Catholics. My mom says I am a little more independent than most teens, but changing around has definitely helped me.
My mom also sends me interesting facts and articles on our faith through email, which helps, and I do research on my own. Now, at the Mississippi School of the Arts, I am in a college atmosphere to give me a taste of what college is going to be like. It is a very small-scale version of college, but I truly love it.
Tell us about your upcoming project.
“The Littlest Gargoyle” was actually a play I performed at the age of 10. Earlier this year, the playwright — a local writer by the name Tonya Hayes — suggested turning the play into a storybook. My mom remembered how many times our family listened to books on tape or CDs on road trips. The two came together, and the book was written.
It's a great story about a young nun in medieval France wanting to help build Notre Dame. Her heart is surrounded by doubt and fear of the unknown. She is led on a journey that finds her in some very difficult situations, but, through perseverance and her deep love for God and the Blessed Mother, she begins a deeper understanding of his plan for her. This story will be a wonderful tool to introduce the idea of religious vocations.
As for new projects, my mom and I are flirting around with ideas at the moment; we don't know what type of CD we would like to do just yet. My main focus would be to finish “The Littlest Gargoyle” book on tape and be busy promoting the DVD of “The Faithful,” which is a very new product in the Catholic world.
I am extremely happy to be a part of all this and just want to continue to share my gift with people.
Lisa M. Hendey, webmaster of CatholicMom.com, writes from Fresno, California.