Country music history is full of hard-luck stories and underdogs, but no one took a rockier or more touching path to a major label deal than Make-A-Wish kid turned wish-granter Kevin Sharp. Indeed, few did more in their time on Earth to help others facing a similar predicament.
Growing up in Redding, California, Sharp showed a talent for singing by playing roles in local musicals. While sharpening those talents as a high school senior in Sacramento, bouts with dizziness and fatigue led doctors to a Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis. It’s a rare form of bone cancer that had already spread to Sharp’s lungs.
During his two years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Make-A-Wish arranged for Sharp to meet Canadian composer and producer David Foster. Foster has done a little bit of everything over the years, from composing the theme for St. Elmo’s Fire to producing Kenny Rogers’ jazz standards album Timepiece, making him a valuable resource for a theater kid with country music aspirations.
By his early 20s, Sharp’s cancer had gone into remission, with permanent hair loss as the only visible reminder of past health struggles.
A Survivor and a Country Star
Foster remained a factor in Sharp’s life, helping him get signed to Asylum Records in 1996. Sharp’s debut album Measure of a Man arrived that same year and made him an instant success. Debut single “Nobody Knows,” a song originally sung by R&B singer Tony Rich, topped the country charts for four weeks. Two additional singles from the album, “She’s Sure Taking It Well” and “If You Love Somebody,” cracked the top five in 1997.
At the 1998 TNN Music City News Awards in Nashville, complications with a steel rod in his hip caused Sharp to need emergency medical attention. The health scare required surgery, forcing the CMA’s New Touring Artist of the Year to cancel several dates.
Despite not charting a single and effectively ending his mainstream run, Sharp’s 1998 sophomore effort Love Is aged pretty well. It closes with a tender cover of Ty Herndon‘s “Her Heart is Only Human” and features the equally sentimental Darrell Scott co-write “I’m Trying.” “Nobody Knows” already proved that Sharp’s star shone brightest when he sang tender love songs, and this album further drove that point home.
In the new century, Sharp continued his singing career while giving back to the Make-a-Wish Foundation as one of its most visible representatives and beneficiaries. He even titled his third and final album Make a Wish. Issued by the independent Cupit Records label in 2005, the album opens with a forgotten gem in the fun, radio-friendly “I Am the Working Man.” He also touched cancer patients and their families as a motivational speaker and the author of the 2004 book Tragedy’s Gift.
Sharp passed away on April 19, 2014 at the age of 43 due to complications from past stomach surgeries and digestive issues. At his memorial service, Foster fittingly sang “Nobody Knows” with Chris Farren. At that touching moment, a key player in an amazing success story celebrated a man who didn’t just survive beyond doctors’ expectations. He made the most of every day as both an artist and a longtime supporter of the charity that changed his life.