Kevin Sharp: Country star whose career flourished in the face of the cancer which afflicted him for most of his adult life

 

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The Independent Online

"Music has made a difference every day of my life. Whenever I needed strength, there was always a song. I want to do that for someone else. I want to heal the world, I guess."

Country star Kevin Sharp's comment on his craft could all too easily be dismissed as a piece of hollow PR; an empty "let the music heal" statement designed for any one of the many country music magazines that surfaced during the genre's mid-'90s boom. In his case however, he knew exactly of what he spoke, for in August 1989, aged just 18, he had been diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, that had spread to his lungs.

He had until then enjoyed a stable family life and had great hopes of a career in music. As his illness developed it became clear that his chemotherapy treatment wasn't working and he was encouraged to contact the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an American charity that attempts to grant the wishes of terminally ill youngsters. A former choirboy whose long-term musical interest had been fostered by local fiddlers conventions, Sharp asked that he be allowed to meet his favourite record producer, David Foster, at that time best known for his work with Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston.

Sharp's cancer went into remission, allowing him to work as a singing telegram and undertaking some stage work. In 1994 he cut a self-financed and now rare album entitled You Can Count On Me. He continued to perform and maintained his relationship with Foster.

In 1996, on the back of a demo tape, he signed to Asylum records in Nashville and, with producer Chris Farren at the helm, cut the album Measure Of A Man. The first single, "Nobody Knows", a cover of the Tony Rich Project's R&B smash, worked its way to the top of the country charts, staying there for four weeks. He later commented: "That song kinda says it all for me. Every day we put on a show when we're not feeling so good... And as hard as we want to express that feeling to another person, it's such a personal thing for us that nobody truly knows how we feel."

His soulful approach to country was emphasised both by his second single, "She's Sure Taking It Well" (1997) and by his third, "If You Love Somebody" (1997). By now a spokesman for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he himself became the object of a dying nine-year-old's wish; their meeting gaining in poignancy when the youngster died just two days later.

In the summer of 1998, however, and with his sophomore album, Love Is, due to hit record stores, he briefly returned to hospital, an event that coincided with a downturn in his chart fortunes. "There's Only You", the last single from Measure Of A Man, had made it only to No 43 and the first from his new disc, the upbeat "Love Is All That Really Matters", failed even to scrape into the Top 50.

Eventually released from his contract with Asylum, in 2005 he signed with the independent Cupit label. Having published an inspirational book entitled Tragedy's Gift in 2004, he spent the past few years combining a busy tour schedule with motivational speaking engagements.

PAUL WADEY

Kevin Sharp, singer: born Redding, California, 10 December 1970; married; died Fair Oaks, California 19 April 2014.

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