What is your talent? What special gift do you have that gives you joy when you use it? Some people never discover their true talents or never use them. Very special people use their talents to help others, and that’ s what the singers in Sophie’s Soloists set out to do with every performance.
Where It All Began: Sophie’s Story
Sophie Cheng’s story is one of incredible struggle, perseverance and triumph. Growing up in Daly City, California, her life was changed forever at 9 years old, when she was severely injured. The next two years she spent in the hospital were tough, trying to rehab and cope with her injuries, which had left her paralyzed. She went on to raise two children of her own, as well as her two very young sisters, after her husband and her mom both passed away within a year of each other.
Music always had had a special place in Sophie’ s heart, and had helped her get through many trials in her life.
She loved to entertain and bring joy to others. In recent years, she became a regular on the local karaoke scene. Her youngest left for college, and she now had more time to focus on singing.
This lovely woman with her awesome mobile karaoke system has rolled her way into the hearts of many people, while she and a group of very talented singers entertain people during hired out events. Her singing group also shows you how amazing your voice can sound while singing your favorite songs during tavern or party events.
Mark Major Gets Involved
Mark Major explains, “I loved to sing, and I had met Sophie Cheng when singing in some karaoke bars in California. Sophie had dreamed of being a karaoke disc jockey after all her children were grown. Sophie had the idea of collecting a group of singers and going from bar to bar and non-profit to non-profit, putting on shows with this group of singers. But then she and I lost contact with each other.
“Several years later I came around the corner of a building in Sunnyvale, Cal., and ran into Sophie and her sister. The three of us talked late into the night about Sophie’ s dream. About 2 weeks later, I called Sophie up and told her I’ d be one of her singers. I also mentioned that if someone called and wanted us to perform, we needed to have some karaoke equipment on hand.
“Two weeks later I got a call from a friend of mine with whom I had shared Sophie’ s vision. He said, ‘We’ re having a party at the Kiwanis Club, and we’ d like you and your friends to come and sing.’ So, I asked if he just wanted us to sing a song or two, or if he wanted a full performance.
He explained, ‘We want the group to sing until I tell you to stop.”
I called Sophie and said, ‘ Okay, we’ ve got our first job.’ As could be expected, Sophie got somewhat panicked.”
A dream is fun to play with in your mind, but when the reality of the fulfillment of that dream presents itself, you begin to think of all the things that can go wrong. Often that fear keeps you from reaching out and grabbing that dream.
Mark knew Sophie already had acquired a karaoke machine from her uncle. Mark purchased more speakers to go with Sophie’ s equipment and started calling some of the friends he’ d made while singing at karaoke bars. He knew each individual was a very good singer and previously had sung in public.
Mark looked for singers who had not only talent and good voices, but also who sang a variety of different styles of music. Together, Mark and Sophie helped to form the eclectic singing group known today as Sophie’s Soloists.
The Members of Sophie’s Soloists
Mark invited Kristin Hastings, Aubri McCoy, Jeffrey Brewster and Imelda Bamberger to sing with him and Sophie.
Kristin Hastings’ dad was a retired minister. Kristin had grown up singing in church, competed in music competitions throughout high school and participated in singing music productions in college. She’d also toured in Norway and the United States and with the Concordia Concert Choir during her 4 years in college. After college she sang in churches and was in a jazz band, Dr. Deluxe, for 4 years.
Aubri McCoy says, “I’ m driven to perform because I have to, since singing helps me breathe and feel alive. I sing every style of music from pop to opera to jazz to industrial, and I’ve been performing, since I was 3 years old. I went to San Francisco State University to study classical music.”
Jeffrey Brewster started singing with the New Haven Missionary Baptist Church in 1968 as the lead vocalist and part-time musician. After serving in the Air Force, he sang in several different semi-professional groups as well as other church choirs. He joined the world famous Drifters and performed with them from 2008 to 2013.
Imelda Bamberger began singing in the Philippines when she was very young and sang in a band with her three brothers and five sisters. Imelda explains, “I usually sing danceable music, because when I sing I like to dance. Singing makes me feel happy, stress free and young again.”
What makes this group of Sophie’s Soloists so unique is that Sophie is paralyzed, and Mark is a paraplegic, partially paralyzed from a high level spinal cord injury (SCI). When they perform, these artists often sing duets but primarily sing as soloists.
As the group’ s website states, “Every singer in our group has their own, sometimes hidden, disability.
Diversity and inclusion is what our group is all about.
Adversity is a part of life and standing tall every day to this challenge makes us all stronger. We must celebrate and inspire others to face the challenge.”
The Day Mark Major Will Never Forget
When Mark was 15 years old in 1976, he was waiting on some girls with horses to come pick him up to go riding. However, the road the girls were to come down to reach the meeting place had been dug up by a company putting in fiber optics.
“We were to meet at a big tree that I always climbed,” Mark recalls. “When I went to put my knee on one of the tree branches, that branch broke. Suddenly I was o
n the ground. I landed on my back, and my head was the last part of my body to hit the ground. As soon as I had hit, my 5th and 6th vertebrae were compressed and became permanently fused together. I was sent to rehab, but rehab back in those days, at least where I lived, didn’t amount to very much. And, my father’ s insurance quit paying for rehab very quickly.
Believe it or not, today I work at NASA as a computer aid design drafter, using CAD software, for the biggest wind tunnel in the world.
Since my dad’ s an artist, I started learning to draw and later draft at a very young age as a backup plan to my first choice as a life’s goal. Before my accident, I had wanted to become a professional athlete.
I was a very fast baseball pitcher and extremely accurate with my pitches. I’d already been to baseball practice on
“After my injury, I tried accounting, but I couldn’t get my numbers written fast enough in those little boxes. I talked my way out of being an accountant. I started taking drama and choir. When I graduated from high school, I went to college.
But I ran into many problems because the school I went to wasn’t accessible in many areas. Some of the professors I had also weren’t friendly to people in wheelchairs. I finally got a degree in telecommunications with a drama minor.
I was living in Michigan at that time, and I got married during my senior year in college. By 1999 though, I was divorced. I went through myriad jobs, mostly low paying and minimum wage. Next I decided to return to school at a trade school to really learn drafting. I’ d begun to draw faces and do other forms of art. I knew I had a talent for art, due to my dad being such a fine artist.”
Mark Discovers His Talent and a New Career with NASA
Mark discovered he had a talent for drafting and learned the CAD (computer-aided design) system. A friend of his who once worked at NASA, Judy Pollack, was also a paraplegic who had an engineering degree and a major in mathematics.
“She was the most impressive woman I’ d ever met,” Mark explains.
“I moved to Washington, D.C. to work at NASA Headquarters. I think Judy had something to do with my getting my job or may have mentioned me to the NASA people. I ended up working in the building where she worked that NASA had made accessible for her.
Most companies that work at NASA are subcontractors, and the subcontractor I worked for and still do is National Aerospace Solutions.
Sophie’s Soloists Share a Note for Today
Fate often takes a strange twist as different people travel their paths through life.
With the love to perform and sing, these professional artists have come together under the banner of Sophie’ s Soloists to share their talents of singing and loving music with the hearts of many. Each performer has his or her own gift, which enables “Sophie’ s Soloists” to perform a wide array of musical genres wherever they perform.
Who would’ve ever believed that in karaoke bars, you could find so many talented musicians, all from different backgrounds, who are willing and wanting to perform together?
Sophie’s Soloists are a group of individual performers who perform on the same stage, and whose music brings joy to many.
We hope the Cure Nation will make it out to one of their shows!