Born in southern Arkansas, Sarah Jane grew up with loving parents who would flirt and sing in harmony to 1960’s break-up songs by Elvis Presley and Skeeter Davis. Summers were spent with her Mammy and Pappy traveling to bluegrass festivals in their motorhome, the little curly-haired girl dancing to the fiddles and banjos, embraced by the tight-knit bluegrass community. Her father’s work takes the family to the bayou of Monroe, Louisiana, and the utopia is interrupted when her idyllic home breaks up, rocked by infidelity that nobody saw coming. Her world turned upside down, and she retreats to the radio, back to her sad country songs, stories woven around her pain.
A month after high school graduation, Sarah Jane won America’s Miss T.E.E.N. beauty pageant, moved to N.Y.C., and performed in plays and musicals. Within a few short years, she made her Broadway debut in Julie Taymor’s The Green Bird and starred in SWING on Broadway and the 1st National Tour. Then life took priority over her career. She got married, had children, moved to Nashville, and then divorced. As a newly single mother, Sarah Jane turned back to the country and gospel music from her childhood, writing her way to resilience, through grief, and toward love.
Nelson’s childhood influences ring loud as one can hear hints of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Wynonna Judd, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. “In the last couple of years, as I’ve become focused on my songwriting craft and personal development work, I’ve been getting much more comfortable in my skin. I feel like that comes through in this new record. Every song has a bit of me and a bit of the story I’ve heard along my way. My goal is to write from my truth while illuminating universal truths that help women feel heard and seen. In sharing myself, I share their stories as well.”
Although her career and musical influences span a wide range, Sarah Jane Nelson is no straightforward theatrical talent, trying on a costume of a genre. The songs on Shelby Park come from a decidedly Americana truth, from a single mother hanging onto a dream through unexpected changes, from a singer returning to the land and music of her childhood, from a keenly observant writer telling the stories of others born out of her own specifics.