July 17, 2002
While the freshman experience can spark friendships, seldom does it help launch careers. Yet, the Baylor vocal group Sign of Jonah forged its foundation when two of its four members -- Laura Brown Cooksey and Jerod Starkey -- met as freshman music majors in 1997 on the first day of class. Now, the group is on the verge of entering full-time Christian music ministry.
"Jerod and I had every single class together," Cooksey recalls. In their sophomore year, they befriended the other two members of the future group, Amber Evans and Dennis McDaniel. The four, all recent graduates of Baylor's School of Music, got serious about forming a vocal group in summer 2000.
First, they needed a name. McDaniel suggested Sign of Jonah, a reference to Matthew 12:39. The group's unusual name often has given the foursome opportunities to talk about Christ's death and resurrection, Cooksey says.
"We really felt the urgency of bringing the Lord's message through song, because, I think, we were all so fed up with music that didn't say anything, but that just sounded good," she says. Over time, Sign of Jonah has transitioned from singing other artists' music to songs the members have written and arranged. In August 2001, the group released its first CD, "Miracle Worker."
Pressed for a description of Sign of Jonah's musical style, both Cooksey and Starkey struggle for an answer.
"Probably the best way I can describe our music is colliding Kirk Franklin with Avalon," Starkey says. The group's eclectic sound reflects the members' personal preferences in musical genres, ranging from pop to musical theater to classical.
"We didn't even have the same heart for the same kind of music," Starkey says of their early days. "The Lord had to take us from four extremely separate people and make us line up to where we can say, 'Oh, this is something that I can commit my life to.'"
For the past two years, Sign of Jonah has performed at various Baylor venues and local churches, as well as churches in Tennessee and Georgia. The group opened for Michael W. Smith during 2001 Welcome Week and for Avalon this year. Future plans include a tour of churches in the South, Cooksey says. Initially, the group will continue to be based in Waco.
"We're just so fortunate," Cooksey says, "that our ministry could be our livelihood."