“I’ve never had a music lesson, but to sing and perform was my biggest dream.”
Vickie Cross recently turned 60 years old.
Throughout her life, she never lost sight of that dream, even as she and her husband of more than 30 years opened their home to more than 70 foster children over the course of 14 years.
Vickie Cross is a mother, a foster mother, a wife and a grandmother, and her story has two beginnings.
The first was her dream of performing and playing music for everyone to hear before deciding to make a traditional living.
Decades later, the second story of her life began.
“Me and my husband bought a restaurant, the Farmer’s Table, in Weesatche,” Cross recalled. “I bought a little karaoke machine and brought it in there so people could have some fun. But I was always the one that had to sing.
“Then people started hiring me to do private parties and things like that, and my husband ended up in the restaurant the whole time, and that wasn’t working really well for us. So, we sold the restaurant.”
At the age of 50, Cross became gravely ill. She wanted to leave her music to her children before she passed away, so she sat in her kitchen with a small tape recorder and began recording songs.
“I had these parakeets that wouldn’t shut up. Every time I would record something, they would sing, too,” Cross recalled laughing. “I ended up having to take them outside.”
When the recording was finished, she attempted to hand it over to her daughter, but it was on a cassette tape. It was 2005, and no one really had cassette players anymore, so she searched for someone to transfer it on to CD.
She found a producer in Rockport who could get the job done.
“He said it would take about four hours, so I drove down to Rockport and dropped off the cassette, then went to go drive the beach.
“As soon as I left, the phone rang, and I thought, ‘Oh darn, he can’t do this.’
But he asked, ‘Is this really you?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Just making sure it was you on this cassette.’”
Twenty minutes passed, and the producer called once again.
“He said, ‘I’m about the third song in, and I’m absolutely in love. You cannot die. You’re going to have to write or sing-something.’
“So he encouraged me to write, and I didn’t know I was a songwriter. You never know if you can write music until you sit down.”
The song that emerged was “Somebody’s Girl.” The producer eventually coaxed Cross into releasing the song as a single to Country Gospel Radio.
“In about three weeks time, “Somebody’s Girl” had hit number three in the Country Gospel charts top 100 in the world. That’s when Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” was really popular, and my producer called me in to the office and said, ‘You need to come see this.’
“So, I went in and saw that my name was right above Carrie Underwood. I was number three, and she was number four. She was coming down from number one. But just to reach that status was really exciting, especially for my first song.”
Soon, DJs began calling her from all over the US and wanted her to head out on the road.
“I said, ‘You don’t understand. I’m a fat lady over fifty. You don’t just get up and run to Nashville,’” Cross remarked laughing.
They eventually convinced her to go to Nashville for a singer/songwriter competition featuring artists from all over the world with the winner having his or her song played on American Country Radio.
She won, and her song stayed at number one on the charts for three weeks.
“It was really, really exciting and a lot of fun.”
The song also landed her on the cover of Glory Train Express, a magazine out of Nashville that has featured such country legends as Glen Campbell, Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers, amongst others.
She also landed a rare gig for a beginning country artist.
“I was asked to open for Robert Earl Keen and Charlie Robison together.
“I kept wondering why all these busses kept coming and dropping people off. It was because Robert Earl Keen likes to get pretty wild, so it became a really big drinkfest out there.
“At that time, I didn’t know who Robert Earle Keene was. I got to meet him and was really honored that I got to do that.
“I don’t really even know what it was for,” she remembered, giggling.
In 2007, she recorded “Little Angel Down the Hall,” and again, it reached the top of the charts. She was nominated for the Gospel Horizon Award given to up-and-coming gospel artists.
“Can you imagine? I was about 53,” she said with a laugh.
The award organizers wanted the nominated artists to go to Jefferson, Texas, a week early to do some promotional filming around the city for the event, but Cross fell ill. So ill, in fact, she landed in the hospital.
“My husband did get me out of the hospital and drove me to Jefferson, but I couldn’t even speak.”
Both her lungs collapsed, and her doctor shared the awful news that she would never sing again.
“I told him that I had a higher Physician who would decide that for me. And, for about a year, I would pick up the microphone and sing but would just cry because I couldn’t.”
For someone who would often sing for upwards of six hours a night, she was devastated. But more determined than ever, Cross continued to write songs and to get her voice back.
Almost a year later, she recorded “Everlasting Love” for her husband to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It hit the top of the charts and caused a frenzy in the gospel music world because she had overcome the odds and was back.
The song also got her featured on the cover of Glory Train Express for a second time.
These days, Cross is still very active. Well, as active as she can be due to her lung condition.
“I go to a lot of nursing homes and sing the songs that are familiar to these people. It makes me feel so good to see them get some joy, and it brings back so many memories to them. They can sing along, and it brings back memories of a better time. It just makes life so much more worth living.”
She also performs many fundraising shows for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospitals and Shriner’s Children’s Burn Hospital to show her continued support for the children.
And through all that, the call of recording still beckons.
“I’m waiting to get back into the studio. I have a lot of songs.”
Cross is ever grateful for everything that’s happened, even if it was later in life than she had planned.
“I didn’t ask for any of it. It was the world to me and really hard to absorb it all because things like this just don’t happen, especially to people my age.
“I just turned 60, and I keep thinking that somewhere down the line I’ll slow down, but the people keep calling. They keep wanting me to sing.”
And sing she does.
You can get Vickie Cross’ albums directly from her at facebook.com/vickiecross53.
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.