A seasoned performer, Sophia Brown has long enjoyed a musical career. But her experiences at Oxy have ignited a twin passion for theater.
Sophia comes from a long line of musical family members, starting with her great-great grandmother, Omega King. A soprano with the National Negro Opera Company, King was one of the first black opera singers to perform in Aïda and La Traviata.
“My grandfather was a multi-instrumental jazz musician, so my mom grew up around music her whole life and played the flute,” Sophia says. “She always encouraged me to do music—she wanted me to continue the legacy because she thought it was so beautiful.”
Sophia, who grew up in Oakland, Calif., got a scholarship to participate in the Young Musicians Program from fifth grade through her first year of high school. The intensive program immersed her in classical training and theory classes. As a high school student, she sang and played guitar and flute as the leader of an all-girl band called Sisters Keeper, regulars in the Oakland music scene.
Today Sophia records and produces music as an individual artist, using the stage name Phern. And she’s definitely getting noticed. She was recently selected from a pool of hundreds of young musicians to sing on a new Wyclef Jean album. Following that honor, she was invited to perform with Jean on one of the mainstages at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in March.
For college, she was eager to enter a smaller academic environment after years of attending large public schools. Taking part in the Multicultural Visit Program made her decision to come to Occidental easy, she said.
“The people here are really what drew me, the faculty were so nice to me and just brought me right in.”
At Oxy, Sophia has been able to spread her wings creatively. Her experiences in the theater department during her first year made her realize how much she loved acting—enough to declare a major and devote up to 20 hours a week to play rehearsals. She is working to balance her love for acting and music.
“People are like, ‘Which one do you want to do?’ and I think, ‘Why choose one or the other?’ I feel like they can go together, acting and music go hand-in-hand.”
Sophia is also striking a balance academically through her public health minor. Some of the scientific aspects of the subject can be challenging, she admits, but she likes a challenge.
“Being able to juggle both disciplines motivates me to keep going, knowing that it’s possible for me to really focus and tackle these two very different subjects.”
Sophia has also leveraged Oxy’s location in Los Angeles, working as a development intern at the Grammy Museum through the College’s InternLA program. She made some good connections there, she said, and made sure to get a photo for her mother when she met The Temptations.
At Oxy, Sophia says, she is surrounded by people who are helping her become the person she wants to become in life. Her academic adviser, Assistant Professor of Theater Sarah Kozinn, has offered invaluable guidance and motivation to explore the full creative possibilities of the discipline. Sophia appreciates the personalized attention and close connections with faculty, a big part of the reason she chose a small liberal arts school like Oxy.
“The professors actually care and they want to help you,” she said. “Getting to know my teachers and my directors, talking with them one-on-one and knowing that they remember my name at the end of it is irreplaceable.”
Having a generous financial aid package has also meant a great deal to Sophia.
“Coming here and having a financial support system has been very beneficial. It means the world to me that I can talk to the financial aid staff and communicate my concerns, and they guide me. They’re very motivated to help you succeed.”