Editor’s note: This is the third in a Black History Month story series.
She was a 5-year-old girl living on a farm, like a kid in a candy store. She would spend her days helping grandma and daydreaming about becoming a famous entertainer when she grew up. Between running around in the yard, doing backflips and climbing trees, the then-tomboy girl never saw it coming — the life she had always dreamed of.
After she was born in Los Angeles, VirLinda Stanton came to Tyler at age 5 to live on her great-grandmother’s farm where she would be raised. Her grandmother always instilled the word of God into her and took her to church often.
One day, Stanton’s grandmother took her to church choir rehearsal. While there, the pianist asked 9-year-old Stanton if she could sing. She only sang around the house, so she said she could. The pianist commanded her to sing along with her.
“When we got a little further in the song, out came this amazing voice that I didn’t even know that I had. I was like, ‘Oh wow,’” Stanton said.
From that point on, Stanton was placed in the young adult choir with teenagers, where she began to lead many songs.
This is when her passion for singing and entertaining grew.
“I said I want to be a famous singer, I want to be a famous entertainer. I love to dance and sing, so I wanted to do it all. When I watched plays and movies, I wanted to be in a play and I wanted to be on TV,” she said.
Ultimately, all she ever wanted to do was sing and be a famous star. When Stanton told her grandmother, she said that if that’s what Stanton wanted to do, to just ask God and he will provide, and that’s what would happen.
“I was self-driven, self-dedicated, motivated, you know, because a lot of people at that time told me, ‘You can’t do this and you can’t do that,’” Stanton said. “Because of who I was and where I am, I didn’t understand that. But I said, ‘Well my God said I can be whatever I want to be and you cannot tell me what I can’t be.’”
According to Stanton, from that moment on, whatever she set her mind to do, that’s what she did.
“In 1982, I didn’t see my future in Tyler. There was nothing in Tyler that could help me get where I needed to be. There were no performing arts schools and things of that sort, and I didn’t have the finances for any of that anyways, so I wanted to start fresh and I wanted to find my way,” Stanton said.
So Stanton worked a regular 9-to-5 job in Dallas. Throughout that time, she was meeting people and auditioning for roles. She always held down her career as an executive administrator through her entertaining.
“It was very hard to do, but when you really want something, you’ll make it happen. That’s what I did. I said, ‘No one is going to stop me. I’m going to go to work because I need to make money and pay bills, but I also have to push toward my dreams and make those things come true.’”
Eventually, Stanton would have film credits for her roles in various films, including “Gallows Road” and “The Choir.” She toured with the Tony nominated musical, “The Color Purple.”
She would also have television credits in ABC sitcom, “Fresh Off The Boat,” “Under One Roof,” TBN’s “Praise the Lord,” and “Good Day,” where her songs would be featured.
Stanton has also received special recognition for singing her version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at numerous NFL, NBA, WNBA and Major League Baseball games.
Stanton also performed at the White House for former President Barack Obama. Among her various accomplishments, Stanton has also performed on Broadway as Rafiki and Nala in Disney’s stage musical version of “The Lion King.”
“We ended up performing in D.C. for two weeks and I was able to go and do a tour at the White House, but when I got home off tour, it came to me again. ‘You’re going to sing at the White House for Christmas,’” Stanton said.
In October 2011, Stanton shared her vision with a friend who Stanton said, thought she was a little crazy.
“I’m going to sing at the White House this year, I’m telling you, I’m going to sing at the White House,” Stanton said.
On Oct. 19 of that year, Stanton received an email asking for her availability to sing at the White House on Christmas for an Open House event.
“I say it was nothing but the grace of God fulfilling my dreams,” she said.
According to Stanton, while on tour with her cast, she met a person who attended a show and who had set up a tour of the White House, who she said God used to do something to allow for her performance at the White House to happen.
In 2011, Stanton’s upbringing came full circle in Tyler.
“No matter where I went or what I did, I always spoke about my hometown Tyler. Even in all of my interviews, I spoke of Tyler. When I came home, I come to Tyler. I would always be involved in different things in Tyler,” Stanton said.
“I didn’t leave home and forget about home. Because home, that is where I was shaped and molded,” she said.
During her Broadway tour of “The Color Purple,” Tyler, Texas, was added to her calendar. Stanton began to advertise her arrival in Tyler with family and friends.
In the resolution, it was declared that Feb. 3 would be VirLinda Stanton Day.
“That same night afterward, I was able to receive my plaque in person from her and we had the cast party,” Stanton said.
On Feb. 16 when her Broadway show returned to Tyler, the city of Tyler and the mayor presented her with a proclamation declaring Feb. 16, also, VirLinda Stanton day.
“This was really a great honor for me because it was all during Black History Month as well. That’s what made it so special,” Stanton said.
Stanton said that next year, there will be an annual celebration for the city of Tyler.
Stanton also has a street named after her.
“The community went to the commissioners court and pushed that forward in wanting to rename the county road that I was raised on, VirLinda Lane, east and west, because they wanted to show how proud they were of the accomplishments that I have made and the accolades that I have received,” she said.
Stanton’s great-grandmother passed away in 1994, so she wouldn’t live to see her modern-day success.
“I would audibly wake up and she would be speaking to me. That’s how connected she and I were,” Stanton said.
Later in her life and after facing personal struggles, Stanton became an advocate for women who have survived domestic violence, molestation, rape and HIV.
Now, Stanton is a full-time entrepreneur, is in the gospel and is still seeking to be on television. She released a book anthology on Feb. 26, “Souled Out 2.”
Stanton also has a key to the city of Tyler presented to her by former Mayor Barbara Bass. She recently performed in Tyler for VirLinda Stanton Day and Black History Month on Feb. 20 at Reformation House of Prayer.