Sophia Foster talks about mentoring

Jazz singer Sophia Foster started the Fostering Foundation to teach young people the skills she had learned in her years in the entertainment industry.

sophia foster mentors
Jazz singer Sophia Foster says she’s always been a mentor, for example, through encouraging her back-up singers: “I hope to see you in front someday,” she would tell them. “Whenever I saw one of them take their careers to the next level (go solo), my heart would be full of joy,” she says. (Image: Triple M Entertainment)

Melissa Javan
South African jazz singer Sophia Foster warns the students she mentors that their attitude can make or break their careers.

She has the experience to back her words: Foster has been in the entertainment industry for more than five decades. She set up the Fostering Foundation to teach young people discipline and how to behave if they wanted to take up singing as a career.

The training she provides includes microphone control, voice projection, stage presence and choreography.

Watch the Sophia Foster show reel, here:

Background

Foster’s career started in the late 1960s, when she joined the travelling entertainers, the Golden City Dixies. Initially she was dancer, but she soon grew into more of a singing career, according to The Journalist.

As her career blossomed, she turned to one-woman musical extravaganzas such as Hey Sister and Nancy’s Dues.

Recently, she directed Women In Song at Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town.

To house the Fostering Foundation, she converted her double garage at her home into a studio. “I started doing one-on-one teachings more than a year ago. In June this year, we will officially launch the Fostering Foundation at the Artscape Theatre Centre’s Arena.”

Her students travel from as far away as Paarl to attend her classes, which are held in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton. “I find that I am driving up and down a lot, because I don’t want children to feel excluded if they have trouble finding transport. I’m doing it pro bono.”

The students

Her students are between the ages of 12 and 24. “I wish to get people younger than that. I believe the younger you start [with mentorship] the better. At that young age you can still teach discipline,” she adds.

“Nowadays with technology, people have certain attitudes that don’t work with this industry. If you have an attitude from an early age, you can make enemies; people in the industry can say ‘I don’t want to work with this person.’

“I always tell my students that you can be left behind, standing at the bus stop while the others drive away with the bus. You have to be a team player.”

Watch Sophia Foster perform with Vicky Sampson:

Asked if she had ever seen herself in one of her students, she replies: “I had this one woman, I think she’s 23. The first time I saw her she was doing a production in a community hall. When I saw her I thought: ‘Oh my goodness! That’s my mini me!’ I was moved when I saw her.

“When I got her to my class, she fitted in. She was enthusiastic, and grateful to have someone like me. She welcomed my mentorship.”

Sadly, the young woman was not as dedicated as a young Foster had been. “When we had a production, she couldn’t attend regular rehearsals, so I had to cut her out of the production.

“For me, you are either dedicated or you are not. If you are passionate, you will be dedicated.” However, she also warns that talented people should be careful of becoming big-headed, which could lead you to losing your dedication.

Students must audition for Foster’s mentorship. “I let them sing songs of different genres. They then answer a list of questions. I then take it from there.”

The productions

Fostering Foundation students have already done three performances at different venues. The first one, at Artscape, was the Sekunjalo Edujazz Concert during Youth Month in 2017.

“I saw how they improved at each venue they performed at,” says Foster.

“A lot of them had grown so much since coming to me. [When they came] they were kids who barely had confidence.”

Her goal

Her goal is to prepare the students to present themselves. “When they walk into [an audition] they should be prepared and professional enough to do what is expected.

“In this industry it’s not about the talent, it’s about what you do with the talent. Because you are young you have to be guided so that you know how to conduct yourself in a professional and precise manner.”

Knowing this can help you sustain your career.

Always learning

About her own work in the industry, she says she “has slowed down”, preferring to focus on mentoring rather than performing these day.

“In the past, whenever I focused on mentoring people, it would be disrupted by my having to travel to perform somewhere. I’m at a stage in my life where I’m not chasing anything. What I’m doing now is for the passion. I slowed down so that I wouldn’t have to travel so much [and be away from the students].

But she still goes to watch theatre productions and performances, whether local or abroad. “There’s always something to learn, because people do things differently.

“It’s always rewarding for me [to attend theatre shows.]”

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See Using Brand South Africa material.