The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Her own song
by Lanita Withers Goins, staff writer
Photography and video by Chris English, photography editor

Karla Davis '08 — former UNCG soccer star and national singing contest winner — finds her way in Nashville.

Many singers grow up with dreams of making it in Nashville, the city of promise and possibility. A place where your name can shine in lights before thousands and your voice can be projected to the world. They come to Music City nursing hopes of stardom, with guitars strapped to their backs and songs in their hearts.

Karla Davis photo
click to see flash slideshow

Carolina on her mind
Watch and listen to Karla Davis '08
sing her original song, “Carolina.”

Many leave heartbroken; dreams unfulfilled, songs unsung.

But others get a breakthrough, a perfect shot at the goal that so often can seem just beyond reach. It takes a mix of talent, moxie and serendipity. Karla Davis '08 has them all.

From soccer field to center stage

Karla, 24, knows about elusive goals, but for most of her life they involved a ball and a net, not a stage and a song. Growing up she starred on the soccer field, where her speed and skill got her name inked in newspapers in her hometown of Monroe and captured the attention of collegiate coaches who wooed her to play for their teams.

UNCG won that battle, and Karla enrolled in the fall of 2004 as the reigning Gatorade North Carolina High School Player of the Year. By the end of her first year, she had earned Southern Conference Freshman of the Year honors.

In her downtime the media management major wrote poetry about the life she saw taking place around her. She was inspired by simple things, like a couple walking down the street. By her senior year, she'd taught herself to play guitar and started strumming the melodies she heard in her head. She recorded a few of her original songs on her laptop, just so she'd know what she sounded like. They weren't anything she was going to brag about. She would have preferred that no one knew about the songs she hid in her soul.

She didn't sing for the public. She didn't sing for her teammates. Not even for family.

She sang for herself.

But her secret was leaking out. Curious friends using her laptop clicked on the songs in her iTunes collection by an artist named “Karla Davis” and had a listen. Others heard her singing in passing and craned their heads to hear more. Everyone thought she had a special talent.

Everyone except Karla. She had to be convinced. “A friend of mine asked if I'd play at her sister's wedding,” Karla says. “This was before I was doing any music. She'd heard me sing at church. I was like, ‘I really want to, but I'm not sure I can.’”

The friend urged Karla to start a YouTube channel, post a video of herself singing and see what kind of response she received.

“I started to get a lot of positive feedback,” Karla remembers. “Once you realize that somebody likes what you're doing, you're like ‘Hmm… maybe I'll see what happens.’ I started putting up more and more (videos).”

In real life — where people could put a name with her face and voice — friends continued to ask, coax, plead: “Karla, will you sing? No one is here.” Slowly, she started to come out of her shell, singing a few lines here, a song there, growing more comfortable singing in front of others.

“She kept progressing,” says Gabrielle “Gabby” DiMora '08, Karla's current roommate, manager and a former member of the UNCG women's golf team. “Finally, after we graduated, me and her teammate Heather wrote her a card, got her a bottle of wine and told her, ‘Karla, you're going to open mic night at the Blind Tiger.’”

The butterflies Karla expected to set up residence when she stepped inside the Greensboro venue never came. “For some reason, I wasn't nervous,” Karla says. She played two songs. “I remember coming off the stage saying, ‘I thought it was going to be harder than that.’”

Others put her initial success more succinctly: “She got up there and blew it out of the water,” Gabby says. “(The folks) at the Blind Tiger started to book her for gigs.”

They weren't the only ones. Word spread and Karla's calendar began to fill with more engagements across the state.

Living with no regrets

But her music was solely a nighttime endeavor. She had a day job — a good one, with solid benefits and advancement potential — working as an executive in the loss prevention department at the High Point Target.

Yet while she was physically on the job, her mind was often elsewhere. “There were a lot of days in my office at Target where I was writing and singing. I'd think about it every day. I'd think, ‘What if? What if?’”

She entered a local country music talent show hosted by WRHI-FM in Rock Hill, S.C., and won the top prize. “I thought it was the greatest thing ever,” Karla says. “Wow! I won $100!” She moved on in the competition against other amateur talent.

Music grew in importance to her, and a piece of advice an early supporter offered reverberated in her mind. “He told me if I wanted to do music, I needed to get into an environment that was more likely to be successful,” Karla remembers.

That place wasn't the rolling hills of the Piedmont Triad that Karla loved and had always called home. “I figured if I was going to go for it, I needed to do it now. I might as well take a chance. If not, I was going to regret it.”

She put in her notice at Target last June, choosing instead to chase her dream. She spent the summer playing shows in New York and North Carolina and hanging out with her family. Then when the tree leaves started to turn a golden hue, the self-professed homebody left her heart in Carolina and steered her midnight blue Corolla west toward Music City.

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The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Location: 1000 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro, NC 27403
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Last updated: Tuesday, 04 October 2011
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