LUMBERTON — When people get their mail delivered by Jackie Johnson-Hill, they may not know that she is living a double-life as an on-stage performer or that she has traveled all over the United States performing for the military and their families.
Some may have seen her perform recently in the three-day Christmas show “A Robeson County Christmas” at the Carolina Civic Center, where she is rediscovering her love for the stage.
“I have always loved singing,” Johnson-Hill said.
Johnson-Hill, 54, was born and raised in Lumberton and has been a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier for nearly 20 years. Before that she served 12 years in the U.S. Army.
During her time in uniform, she had the opportunity to travel and perform in the “All Army Soldier Show.” Each year, Army Entertainment brings together a troupe of performers who are selected through a rigorous audition process. They spend months rehearsing before taking the show on the road each year between May and September. The show is a live Broadway-style variety performance that features soldiers singing and dancing.
Johnson-Hill had at the time been performing in talent shows staged on base, and that led her to auditioning for the soldier show. She and other soldiers from all over the county were chosen by a panel of judges and sent to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, to prepare.
“They train us with professional vocalists and choreographers and they bring a whole show together for that year,” Johnson-Hill said. “We go from different categories to different categories. I remembered I did some Billie Holiday.”
The show featured country, pop, and classical music.They would listen to her voice and give her a song that fit her voice, Johnson-Hill said.
“That’s the kind of show it was. It takes you through different time zones of music and then of course at the end of it, it brings you back around to the patriotic side of the house,” she said.
“We would have a good turnout every time,” she said.
Johnson-Hill made some great memories performing in the show. But she lost her passion for singing when she left the military.
“When I got out of the Army, I was focused on how I’m going to make my living and it kind’ve got lost. I steered away from it,” she said.
It took a talent competition held by the Carolina Civic Center titled “My Time to Shine” to get Johnson-Hill back on stage.
“I think I saw it online. So I said ‘let me go see what this is about,’” she said. “I wasn’t worried about winning. I just wanted to get back out there.”
She placed third in the show, and was bitten by the performance bug again. She was encouraged to go back and audition for the musical “Nunsense” and got the part of Sister Mary Hubert. This was Johnson-Hill’s first time performing in a musical, and she had to get accustomed once more to being on stage and before an audience.
“First I thought I had bit off more than I can chew,” she said.
It was Johnson-Hill’s “energy and essence when she walks into the room” that drew him in, said Kendrix Singletary, Carolina Civic Center’s resident artist and production manager.
“She blew me away,” Singletary said. “From there on, I wanted to utilize her. She is a show within a show.”
Johnson-Hill said her passion will always be singing gospel music because that is where it all began for her. She had been singing since she was a child at South Lumberton Church of God, a church that believes in only singing acapella. Her church believes that God gave you a voice to worship and you shouldn’t rely on instruments all the time, she said.
“We need to be able to worship wherever. When we sing acapella, we already have his music right there,” she said pointing at her heart.
“I see on these shows, when people go to audition they don’t have music. I’m not saying it’s a spiritual thing but there’s a reason for that,” she said. “When you hear it naturally, you know they can carry a tune or they can’t carry a tune.”
In the future, Johnson-Hill sees herself retiring and performing outside Robeson County. Until then people can expect her in various shows at the Carolina Civic Center.
“I think I might do my ‘My Time to Shine’ again,” she said.
Auditions for next year’s “My Time to Shine” talent show will be Feb. 9 and Feb. 10. Visit the theater’s website, carolinaciviccenter.com, for more information.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at 910-416-5865 and [email protected]