Singing for America

Billy Sparks, right, poses for a picture with Jay Leno. Sparks said working in politics and entertainment gives him the opportunity to meet all kinds of interesting and famous people. (Courtesy photo)

By Tova Fruchtman: CNJ staff writer

His name is familiar. But many New Mexico residents know Billy Sparks as the governor’s press guru, not the singer/songwriter.

Sparks, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bill Richardson, will be performing a concert — that’s right, a concert — on Jan. 23 at Clovis Community College.

“I’ve always done both,” said Sparks, who joined his first band when he was 12 and had his first job in the United States Senate when he was 16.

Sparks, who often played with an eight- or nine-piece band when he was living in New York, will be performing in Clovis alone with his guitar.

His music is a tribute to American culture, said Sparks, whose father is a full-blooded Eastern Cherokee.
By singing, Sparks said he continues to follow Native American tradition and document its history.

“In the Native American tradition, all the stories are in song,” Sparks said. “There are some of them that are thousands and thousands and thousands of years old, like the peace-pipe song.”

The tradition of preserving history with song has been passed onto Sparks, who has been invited to gatherings of many Native American elders for the purpose of writing a song about the event.

His song “The Eagle and the Condor,” tells the story of a peace-pipe ceremony between an Andean elder and a Lakota elder, Sparks said.

Sparks’ songs aren’t just about Native American history — they’re about all of American history.

“I’ve had an opportunity, being involved in politics at the level I have, to be around a lot of individuals that have great stories,” said Sparks, explaining part of the art of song writing is telling a story. “I’ve written about 200 songs. A lot of them are about things I’ve experienced myself and other people’s life stories.”

After Sept. 11, Sparks wrote a song called “A prayer for America.”

“We need strong songs in difficult times,” Sparks said.
He said he hopes his music will leave his audience in a better place, a message he heard from Harry Chapin when he played a show with him.

“To have positive songs with a positive message is very important,” Sparks said. “We have a lot in common, all of us. Music is a very universal language.”

The singer/songwriter has played to some large audiences of hundreds of thousands of people as well, like Farm Aid in Dallas and Freedom Festival and Solidarity Day in Washington, D.C.

The songs Sparks wrote to perform at the nation’s capital went beyond politics, Sparks said.

“You want people to understand a situation is more than politics. It’s people facing really challenging times, and how they deal with it. Lives that are being impacted,” he said.

CCC President Beverlee McClure invited Sparks to perform at the college after listening to his music.

McClure said she had worked with Sparks in the political realm, and had heard of his musical career, so she asked him for his compact disc.

“I just remember being impressed with the sound of his music,” she said. “He’s just a really neat character. I think (people will) enjoy having the opportunity to interact with him.”