On my way to lunch at FoodStuffs to meet Lake Forest’s Taylor Yacktman for lunch, I catch a glimpse of her through the storefront’s window. Wearing a casual black sundress and making easy conversation with the lunchtime regulars at the salad bar, Taylor is the picture of a girl without a care in the world. But as lunch unfolded, it’s clear that this isn’t entirely true.
Ever since Taylor was three years old, she has known that she wanted to be an entertainer—a singer, a dancer, or an actor if that’s what was needed. And at 26 years old, she’s feeling the pressure of needing her big break to come soon.
“My Dad jokes that I’ve taken the gypsy path,” says Taylor, who goes by Sashé Taylor on stage—a name dreamed up by her mother and grandmother. “He wishes that after I graduated from college, I would have taken a more ‘traditional’ job in the business world. But singing and dancing is something that’s in my soul—I can’t not pursue it.”
As a young child, Grammy-Award winning producer Jim Tullio—the mastermind behind Chicago Blues’ legend Mavis Staples, introduced Taylor to Ron Alexenburg, who first signed Michael Jackson to RCA records. Jim knew that Taylor’s unique sound and incredible stage presence had great marketability.
“But my parents weren’t sold. At all. These industry leaders told them that my life was about to change forever, that I wouldn’t go to regular school any more, and that this new world would be my life,” she says. “And my parents were like ‘no way.’ They wanted me to have a normal life and to finish school. And if entertaining was still what I wanted to do when my schooling was over, I could go for it then.”
With a degree from the University of Colorado and her father’s blessing, Taylor now works days in the business world. But in her off hours, the high-energy Taylor is going on auditions, writing music, producing music videos, or promoting her brand through social media (sashetaylor.com). To date, Taylor has been featured in commercial, film, and television work. She has been an on-air web host for a music show called MyLive Ticket. She headlined for the 2012 McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And soon after, Taylor completed a 15-city tour across China promoting her first EP (a half album that she co-wrote with Chris Sernel, producer on Atlantic and Warner Chapel) called “Dare You to Love Me.”
Coming off her tour in Asia, Taylor had a better sense for the performer she wanted to be. “For so long, I’ve been trying to figure out where I fit,” says Taylor who has recently reconnected with Jim Tullio. “Jim told me that when people ask me what kind of singer I am—POP or Blues, I should just tell them that I’m a great singer. When they ask me what kind of music I sing, I should tell them I sing great music and let the conversation end there. My singing will stand for itself.”
Taylor can’t imagine working anywhere else but Chicago. While open to moving should the right opportunity arise, she will always keep Chicago as her homebase. “Right now, Jim and I are working on a raw, Blues-inspired album—my first complete album—called Gypsy Queen. My great grandmother, who was a famous opera singer in Europe is going to be on the cover. She’s wearing this incredible gypsy costume—it’s perfect.” Taylor’s album will debut early next spring.
This summer, while working on her album, Taylor auditioned for a role in Dee Snider’s Broadway play “Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas” and she got it. “Guiliana Rancic also tried out for this show—so it was awesome when they cast me. I’m one of only three women and I’m assisting in the choreography, too.”
Rather than be discouraged by the ups and downs in her journey, Taylor is empowered by it. “I have to hope that the reason these opportunities keep falling into my lap, that the reason people keep calling to work with me is because I’m doing exactly what it is that I’m supposed to be. I want to be a positive voice in the world and lift people up.”
– Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve