From Religion to ‘Rumours’: How Sharon Udoh Became Counterfeit Madison< < Back to
Sharon Udoh grew up playing music for God.
For over 10 years her voice and piano echoed softly off church walls in a form of spiritual connection. Her hands would run through Christian melodies in methodic prayer, and with eyes closed, each note would bring her closer the Lord.
Her mother, a devout Christian, would watch each week as her daughter developed in this defining culture. Musically, and philosophically, religion encompassed Sharon Udoh’s life.
That is, until everything started to change.
Sharon was raised in Cincinnati to two Nigerian parents. Her upbringing was eclectic: in the daytime she attended school in predominately white neighborhoods, and at night, she hung around immigrant families.
It was through this interesting socialization that Sharon grew strongly religious. With exposure to so many multicultural beliefs, Christianity was something she could understand and count on.
So, when she showed musical talent at a young age, it was only natural that it would be used to extend her relationship with God.
“When I started playing music, the purpose was only to connect with God. That was the only reason,” she said in an interview with WOUB.
Udoh was enrolled in piano lessons in 1988 at the age of 7, and began playing music in church shortly after.
She became so involved in her Christian community that by the time she was ready to graduate high school, she was set to join the ministry full time. However, Udoh also did very well academically, and one day she decided to weigh her options and test the Lord.
In the spirit of the biblical Gideon, Sharon gave God a proposition.
“Lord, if you want me to go to college, give me all the money. I want a full ride. That’s the only way I’ll go,” she said.
Sure enough, she got one.
She set her ministry aside and attended The University of Cincinnati for digital design under the DAAP program (Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning), and it was here that things started to change.
“I was learning about art. I was learning about Caravaggio, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Robert Mapplethorpe- I was learning about risk takers and expressing yourself,” Udoh said. “And here I was coming to class wearing long skirts and a white shirt, painting Jesus and just trying to awkwardly navigate art school in a really religious way.”
Udoh started hanging around people with different opinions, beliefs, and attitudes, things she was never exposed to in church. She met her first gay friend, at first with religious skepticism, and then with open-mindedness. She became involved in a new world of art, politics, and sex.
Then, at the age of 20, she decided to try something completely out of her comfort zone.
“I was learning about art. I was learning about Caravaggio, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Robert Mapplethorpe- I was learning about risk takers and expressing yourself. And here I was coming to class wearing long skirts and a white shirt, painting Jesus and just trying to awkwardly navigate art school in a really religious way.” – Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison
“I made a decision in my third year of college that I would listen to secular music,” Udoh said.
She announced this to one of her art classes and the next day she received a surprise.
“On my desk I had a stack of CDs. Radiohead’s The Bends, Weezer’s Pinkerton, Purple Rain by Prince… Off the Wall by Michael Jackson, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors,” she recalled.
Rumours quickly became a favorite, and one day she was listening to the album with headphones in when she accidentally started singing along.
With wide-eyed panic she looked up at her father who quickly asked, “What are you listening to?” When she responded with the truth, he left the room.
A few minutes later, he returned with a copy of the original vinyl.
Shocked and excited, Sharon realized her world was now open to an entirely new range of music — music that she could even share with her family.
After that, things started moving quickly. Sharon began exploring new music by playing piano with friends at open mic nights and her talent soon became a strong commodity.
At one point she was even involved in 14 different bands.
“I was this crazy pseudo-religious person playing all this music with no musical history,” she said.
The years passed and she continued to grow in her style and abilities, picking up musical influences from all genres. When she was 28 years old, she decided she needed a change of scenery.
She moved to Columbus and began living on her own for the first time, broadening her perspectives even more.
“When I moved to Columbus, people just knew me as Sharon, not as Sharon with all this baggage. So it was really cool to reinvent myself. And I just kept reinventing myself over and over again,” Udoh said.
At that time she was still largely a side musician, singing back-up vocals and playing occasional piano solos with other bands. It wasn’t until her friends encouraged her, that she began work on her first solo album.
“I didn’t realize I needed to be myself,” she stated.
Under the name Counterfeit Madison, she recorded her first record, Opened and Shut in 2013, and has been working on solo pieces ever since.
“The thing that will satisfy me the most is that I’ll get to be absolutely vulnerable and completely myself in Counterfeit Madison,” she said.
Her new album, Opposable Thumbs, will be released on Nov. 17.
“This second album is a result of me growing up and playing new materials,” Udoh said. “It sounds like all the parts of me, it sounds like all of me.”
Since the first album was largely at the suggestion of others, she explained that this next one is even more special.
“I have never been so sure in my life that I have a gift of music to share,” she said. “The only difference between the first album and the second album is my certainty.”
Though Udoh’s life has been a wide-ranging journey from devout Christianity to artistic expression, one thing remains certain: music is her way of connecting to the world around her.
“Throughout the entire time of me playing music I’ve changed my perception of what music is for. Now I don’t think that it’s exclusively to connect with God but I think music is to connect… and that is really strong in my music,” she said. “I’m definitely connecting to something whether it’s an emotion or another person.”
Counterfeit Madison (Sharon Udoh) is a Columbus based musician and will be performing Thursday, November 9 at 9 p.m. at The Union. Tickets are $5 at the door.