Jim Brickman started playing his hit Simple Things at his 50th birthday concert last month in Cleveland, and as usual, vocalist Anne Cochran walked out to sing.
Then Brickman stopped her and told her she wasn't singing the song that night and that it was the "star for a day" song.
The "star for a day" that day was Marsha Charles, the Lexingtonian who won a contest to sing at Brickman's big show on Nov. 20. It was a huge experience for the accountant and pastor who has counted Brickman as her favorite artist for well over a decade.
And the icing on the cake is that she's going to get to do it again when Brickman comes to the Lexington Opera House for a concert the day after Christmas.
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"After the show in Cleveland, they said, 'We're coming to Lexington next month. You want to sing with us there?' " Charles says.
She couldn't refuse.
Charles, 49, has loved music since she was a child singing in church, learning to play piano and guitar, and writing songs. But her life took her in a different direction. She owns a small-business accounting firm, AAR Management Accounting, and in 2010 she graduated from Lexington Theological Seminary. She is the pastor of Bluegrass United Church of Christ, which meets in the chapel at LTS.
The ministry reopened the door to music for Charles, who was in Nashville this week recording songs for an album she will self release in the spring.
"It's my original songs, primarily for family and friends," she said Thursday.
In recent years, she says, Brickman has been a musical mentor, and she has made a point of catching his concerts whenever he performs in the region. She even met him once on a cruise where he played two concerts, and he complimented her voice when she sang karaoke on the ship.
"He said, 'If I didn't think it would make you nervous, I'd ask you to sing with me,'" says Charles, whose voice favors pop star Anne Murray. "I told my friend, 'I'd give my two front teeth to sing with him."
It turned out, all she had to do was submit an audition video. When she learned of Brickman's contest, she prepared to shoot a video of herself singing Simple Things, even cutting a practice video a few days before the entry deadline.
In those next few days, however, there was a sudden death in her small congregation. She focused on comforting people and thought she'd let the contest go. But close friends said no and had her submit the practice video of herself in shorts and a polo shirt sitting on the edge of a piano bench, singing the song.
"They told me they liked how relaxed I was," Charles says with a laugh. "I said, 'Yeah, I was relaxed. It was practice.'"
She got a bit more tense in Cleveland, even forgetting the lyrics — her biggest fear — in rehearsal. But she nailed it in concert, where she sat on the piano bench with Brickman for the last verse.
Charles says it will be easier for her to sing Monday, since she has met Brickman, Cochran and Ben Utecht, the former Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts tight end who is now singing with Brickman, and the rest of the pianist's team. But there will be the matter of more than a hundred family and friends in the crowd.
"I really want to make Lexington proud," Charles says, "because I'm from Lexington and I won this contest, and I really want to nail it so people will go, 'Yeah, that's our girl.' "