From aspiring singer to journalist to UNF’s public relations director

How Joanna Norris continues to follow her childhood dream

Joanna Norris, UNF’s public relations director and a Christian musician, is reworking and producing an original song in her unending journey filled with death, health and financial struggles and strength in Christ.

Her testimony doesn’t involve overcoming an addiction or realizing she was living a lie. No. Norris has been singing since she was a child, progressing from churches to women’s conferences, relief efforts and even to the Osprey Women’s Choir.

“I’ve always had that passion [to create music] and just felt like God always had something more for me and something related to music,” Norris said, “because he gave me this voice and I’ve been using it to glorify him since I was seven years old.”

Norris is traveling to St. Petersburg, Fla. on Jan. 14 to professionally re-record an original song from her album “Walkin’ on Water,” which was released in May of 2009.

“This song that I’m going to record in early 2017 is called ‘Hold Me Jesus.’ And my father died from a cancerous brain tumor 19 years ago,” Norris said of the story behind the song title. “I wanted to write a song about that experience and how my faith and how God carried me through that deep, dark time in my life.”

The opportunity to re-record this song comes after another dark time in Norris’s life, this time caused by her own health concerns. While enrolled in UNF’s School of Music in Spring of 2016, UNF Adjunct Professor of Voice Rebecca “Becky” Loar  advised Norris she might want to get her vocal cords checked up on. When she did, Norris’s ENT found that she had only one functioning vocal cord.

“We didn’t know whether it was a cancerous tumor or some kind of cyst on it, so I had that kind of scare. You know, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my voice,’” Norris said. “If anyone knows me, it’s synonymous with singing. So it was a little scary. I had to get an MRI done at Baptist and that thing showed there wasn’t anything there, so we had to take it a step further.”

Norris had to get her throat scoped to ensure nothing potentially dangerous was preventing her vocal cord from functioning. The results of the procedure showed that Norris simply couldn’t use that vocal cord, possibly since birth. Then summer came and Norris was plagued with more serious health problems. She didn’t think she would live to see the fall semester.

“I dropped down to like a hundred pounds — and I don’t weigh a whole lot anyway — but you know that’s almost like a walking stick,” Norris said. “I was hospitalized for a time and could have died a couple times. And you know, I’m thankful that God decided not to take me cause he’s not done with me yet.”

Norris says she’s appreciative of those who helped produce her first album. Her friend and owner of the recording studio, Ted Corby, played multiple instruments; a coworker designed the CD cover; Norris got a good deal on the physical tape; and her fellow musicians at church pitched in too. But Joanna wants to remove the upbeat sound and play around with the lyrics so the meaning shines through.

“We took some of my lyrics and put that in with some of his music. And sometimes that works on projects and sometimes it doesn’t,” Norris said of the production of her first album. “‘Hold Me Jesus,’ really should be a ballad. I mean it’s about a very dark, painful time in my life, and so I wanted to slow it down.”

After speaking with her current worship pastor at Southpoint Community Church in Jacksonville about her goal, Norris decided to follow his advice and set up a Gofundme account. She already knew the message she wanted to send to the public. So she grabbed her husband and son, drove down to Saint Augustine to record the video and uploaded it to the crowdfunding website.

“Literally within minutes of me posting that, and I’m really not lying, I had people sending money,” Norris said. “And I felt that was just confirmation that I was on the right path.”

Norris wanted to record three songs during her scheduled recording session in January, but only raised enough funds to cover “Hold Me Jesus.” But she expressed her gratitude for the support she has received and plans to work with what she’s been given. She will be working with Kenn Mann of First United Methodist Church of St. Petersburg to produce a radio-ready recording on a tight budget.`

“You know, I’m not letting that dream die, and I’ve got to get this one song recorded. These people believed in me, I’ve got their money in my bank account, you know? … I’ve got to move forward,” Norris said. “I can, you know, sell the song; I can send it to record companies; I can do whatever with it, and so I’m thrilled.”

Norris hopes that others will be encouraged by her perseverance and decide to pursue their dreams as well.

“I decided in January of this year — actually it was before then; it was during the Christmas holiday — I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m not getting any younger. God has a plan for me. I can totally do this,’” Norris said. “My heart and passion is women — to give them hope, to give them encouragement, to let them know, ‘Don’t stop dreaming.’”

To hear more of Norris’s music, visit her ReverbNation page linked here. Community members who are interested in learning more about her journey can find her on Facebook and Gofundme.

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For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact editor@unfspinnaker.com.

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