By Caroline Keyser (Fort Irwin USAG)January 27, 2011
When Jacinia Whitfield sings, she doesn't worry about fitting in with other people's expectations of her.
"I always say, 'Stick with what you've been doing,'" she said. "Don't change because someone else wants you to."
It may not be the most common philosophy for an aspiring young R&B singer, but it's one that has taken Whitfield far. The daughter of Master Sgt. Antonio and Tamara Whitfield, 18-year-old Whitfield's lifelong love of singing has recently reached new heights. In September, she won Fort Irwin's Operation Rising Star singing competition and advanced to the Army-wide competition at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, in November.
Several months before the Fort Irwin competition, Whitfield won a school talent competition at Silver Valley High School, where she had been a senior, and she was eager to test her singing skills in front of a wider audience.
That didn't mean she wasn't nervous, though.
"I was terrified when the competition came," Whitfield said. "There were other singers there who were really good, and I was the only dependent and the youngest one. I thought they would pick someone older and more mature."
They didn't. After a soulful rendition of Luther Vandross' "Dance with My Father," which Whitfield chose in honor of her recently deceased grandmother, the judges declared her the winner.
"When they called my name, I could barely move," she said. "I was so happy."
Whitfield was again surprised when she found out she would advance to the Army-wide competition. She decided to make the cross-country flight and participate in Operation Rising Star alone - a bold move for a young woman who had never spent much time away from her family and who had never flown alone.
"My family has always gone to everything I've done," Whitfield said. "But I'm glad I decided to go by myself because I learned a lot about how it's really gonna be when I have my own apartment. It opened my eyes."
Though Whitfield was cut from Operation Rising Star when the field narrowed from 12 competitors to six, she said she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Now, she's setting her sights on the future. After Antonio retires from the military this year, the Whitfield family is planning to move to Virginia, where Jacinia wants to attend Old Dominion University. But she doesn't plan to major in music. Whitfield acknowledges that singing and performing for a living can be tough, and she's aiming for a degree in psychology.
"Music is what I really want to do, but I want to have a back-up plan," she said. "I like listening to people and trying to make them feel better."
Whitfield doesn't intend to stop singing during college, though. She's been composing and recording R&B and gospel songs for several years, and plans to continue while she's in school.
Whitfield's love of the two genres spans nearly her whole life. She sings soprano with Fort Irwin's gospel choir, and has been singing in church choirs for as long as she can remember.
"With gospel, I just love the words," she said. "And with R&B, it's about things I go through. I usually write R&B songs because I can relate to them, and I want others to be able to relate, too."
Whitfield said her mother has been one of her most important influences, in both music and in living her life. Tamara, a former Soldier, has served as choir director for churches at every one of the family's duty stations.
"It's definitely my mom who has inspired me," she said. "She's a very good singer, and always honest with me about my voice, and that's helped me a lot. My mom is never bringing people down, she's always lifting them up, and that makes me want to be like her because everybody likes her."
As Whitfield continues to grow in her musical abilities, she said she would like to follow her mother's example by serving as a positive role model for the younger generation, especially her sister, 11-month-old Amelia. For Whitfield, that means staying true to her own standards and not necessarily conforming to what's popular.
"You don't have to curse and be vulgar for your music to be good," she said. "I try to keep my music clean and keep to my own style. I don't feel like I need to change."
Those who know Whitfield and have heard her sing don't doubt she'll go far.
"I think she has a pretty good future in music ahead of her," said Staff Sgt. Tamika Jackson, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, who has sung in the gospel choir since June.
"There's always room for improvement, but if she continues to sing and have the drive and passion she does today, I think she could really have a successful career in music. She's definitely a valuable member of the choir."