Rosharra Francis: Broadway lights up for St. Pete native
BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
NEW YORK – The performing arts pipeline between St. Pete and New York City erupts again for an “I will not be denied” determined, young, black and beautiful woman with star power. The musical journey for Rosharra Francis started 23 years ago when she was just three years old.
“I started singing in church,” said Francis.
She shared that her parents, Sharon Welch and Robert Francis, always supported her creative activities “unlike some parents who insist their child be something more stable like a doctor or lawyer.”
She sang with her cousins and friends in the neighborhood and in the choir at Prayer Tower Church of God In Christ where her grandfather Elder Clarence Welch was the pastor. One advantage Francis had growing up was the spiritual and musical influences of her grandfather, her uncle Pastor Ricardo Welch and cousin Dr. Cody Clark.
However, the defining event that set the course for Francis was her acceptance in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts (PCCA) program at Gibbs High School where she studied musical theater.
“Definitely, Gibbs helped me come out of my shell.”
Quiet and shy, Francis always loved the arts. She credits teachers such as Karen Bail, Dawne Eubanks and cousin Cody for pushing her out of her shell.
Francis’ family and community helped her grow deep roots that anchored her spiritually, mentally and artistically and helped her accumulate a number of awards all before heading off to Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.
She won top vocal awards in the Walker Rising Star, Columba Bush’s Arts for Life, where she traveled to Rome and performed in the House of Bishops, Al Downing Jazz Competition, Sun Coast Opera Guild and the Grady-Raham Negro Spiritual Foundation Competition.
Her high school career in the PCCA program culminated with Francis winning the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts award and the coveted PCCA Bravo Award.
Off to SMU
For many students in her major, once the advanced coursework begins, they start to ask themselves if have the stuff to make it, and Francis, a classical music major, was no different.
“Only about three or four of us in the Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance program made it to graduation,” said Francis.
That’s when Francis’ spiritual self and passion for her craft took over.
Her years at Gibbs taught her how to be an artistic entrepreneur and create opportunities for herself. That same spirit surfaced for her as she approached graduation. The gifted singer founded and led Frontier Live, a vocal ensemble that performed throughout Dallas.
She made such an impression on her high school instructor that Bail traveled to Texas to watch her perform.
After graduating and performing throughout Dallas, her next conquest for knowledge and artistic growth was New York University (NYU) where she pursued a master’s degree in musical theatre and vocal pedagogy.
During Francis ’second year at NYU, she started teaching at the university and launched her professional career as a performing artist in a variety of venues from New York to Colorado and plenty in between.
In 2015, Francis appeared in her first feature film “One More Time” starring Christopher Walken and Amber Heard. The gifted vocalist was also featured on the movie’s soundtrack. However, Francis struck “divine” gold when she landed the role of Little Eva on the national tour of “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical.”
Little did Francis know that two years later she would reprise her role as Little Eva on the Great White Way.
“It felt like a dream come true,” said Francis, after her performance last Friday, July 7.
Francis is a swing performer, which means she also plays additional roles if other actors are out sick or on emergency leave.
In addition to performing on Broadway, Francis released an EP earlier this year entitled “I’m The Girl,” available on iTunes.
“Miss Shanelle who is also from Gibbs choreographed my music video that Laquelle Mills dances in.”
Francis enjoys staying connected to and working with former schoolmates from Gibbs. Such connections are also a means of job security by letting each other know where the next opportunity may be.
Although Francis is thoroughly thrilled with her debut on Broadway, she still manages to keep a level head and entertains future possibilities because a performing artist can only be as secure as his or her next curtain.