UT sophomore Sara Davis brings her musical talent to Penny & Sparrow

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Jarrid Denman

English sophomore Sara Davis is a singer in the local band Penny & Sparrow.  Davis, a self-taught musician, joined the group in March after they discovered her on YouTube and will perform her first solo act this Friday in Waco, Texas at the Common Grounds.  

Hillary Hurst

A sheet of music does not mean much to Sara Davis. 

Even though Davis has been playing the guitar since fifth grade and was singing for audiences by the time she was in middle school, the UT freshman never learned to read musical notes. Instead, she relies solely on listening to learn a song. In March, Davis caught the attention of the local band Penny and Sparrow and has been contributing her vocals to the band’s work ever since.

“Really, with music, there are only so many notes, and there are only so many chords, but there’s an endless amount of creativity out of that,” Davis said. “Songs are similar melodically or lyrically, but there’s never been the same song over and over again. It’s endless creativity. It’s this universal tool that everyone relates to.”

After showcasing her singing at a church service, Davis began writing her own songs in high school and continues to hone her skills in college. Religiously grounded, Davis believes her work is strongly influenced by her Christianity — but does not categorize her music under the worship genre. 

“I’m not a Christian artist. I don’t really want to be, honestly, just because the title turns a lot of people away,” Davis said. “If you know the Lord, you hear it in the lyrics. And people who don’t know the Lord, I think can hear that and start asking questions. So that’s kind of my goal.”

In early 2013, a friend posted videos of Davis singing on YouTube, where they collectively garnered over 6,000 views. Soon after, Davis received a phone call from Andy Baxter, the YoungLife area director of Northwest Austin, and guitarist Kyle Jahnke. Together, Baxter and Jahnke are the band Penny and Sparrow.

“I had known she was talented but never really heard it until I watched the video,” Jahnke said. “I was sitting in a coffee shop and was crying about halfway through the video. I don’t think I even finished the song. I just called Andy and told him we needed to have her play with us.”

Penny and Sparrow just wrapped up its Southeast Tour and is now recording an upcoming album. Because she has to balance school and extracurricular activities, Davis comes in to record when she can, but she emphasized that it’s stress-free and never a burden to go rehearse with the band she considers family.     

“Sara is more talented than Kyle and I, for sure,” Baxter said. “She plays multiple instruments well, sings like a lark and legitimately makes us sound better than we are without her. Singing with her is a crazy joyful experience. If we had it our way, [we’d] be singing on her record soon.”

On Oct. 9, Davis played with Penny and Sparrow at Stubb’s, where the band  opened for The Shouting Matches and The Blind Boys of Alabama. 

“When we were leaving that show, we were like, ‘Let’s pray that in a year we’re back here and playing outside,’” Davis said. “And then we get a call the next week [that we would] be playing there in two weeks. [I thought] not many people were going to be there, and then we walk out and it’s really full. I literally had to come off the mic a few times and put my hands over my face. I was just overwhelmed. It was such a huge blessing.” 

Penny and Sparrow will perform at Common Grounds in Waco on Nov. 8, where Davis will be the band’s opening act. 

Davis hopes to keep playing with Baxter and Jahnke and keep music at the forefront of her life. 

“I look up to [Baxter and Jahnke] so much,” Davis said. “I’m honored that they want me to play with them at all. They’re a huge part of how this has started for me. I’m just grateful for how it’s happened so far.”