Sharon Katz was born in Port Elizabeth, now known as Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa. As a young teenager during the terrible apartheid era, she used to sneak out to the “Blacks Only” townships by hiding under blankets in the back seat of her friend’s car. There, she met with the now-famous actors in Athol Fugard’s group, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, and began her lifelong mission of using music to help break down the country’s artificially-imposed racial barriers.
Back in 1992, Sharon made history in her home country of South Africa when she formed the country’s first-ever, 500-member multi-cultural and multi-lingual performing group and staged the production called “When Voices Meet.”
Then in 1993, Sharon rocked the nation with her concert tour, “The Peace Train.” The first performance had been so successful and so widely publicized that invitations began pouring in from all over the country. To respond to all the requests, Sharon got sponsors to hire a train – The Peace Train – and took 150 of the performers, her friends Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as well as TV and radio crews on tour throughout the country. At each stop along the route, they performed their concert and encouraged people of all races, cultures, ages and political affiliations to put down their guns and hostilities and to prepare for the country’s transition to a peaceful democracy. The performing group became known as “The Peace Train” forever more, and all the world watched as Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected President a few months later.
“When Voices Meet” is the award-winning documentary about Sharon Katz & The Peace Train. You can see the trailer at www.whenvoicesmeet.com
The first time world-wide audiences saw Sharon perform was on CNN in April 1994. By then, a date had been set for South Africa’s first-ever democratic election. Sharon was commissioned by the Independent Electoral Commission to write songs in many of South Africa’s languages to teach people how to vote for the first time in their lives. CNN caught Sharon jumping down from a helicopter to perform the songs in a remote area of KwaZulu-Natal because Chief Buthelezi had just agreed to let his people vote and there was an urgent need to inform people quickly.
The CNN piece brought international attention, and the invitations to perform in the US and elsewhere started pouring in. The Peace Train was about to become The Peace Plane!
As South Africa’s “Cultural Ambassadors,” Sharon Katz & The Peace Train took flight in 1995 to spread their music and message to the US. With sponsorship from the government and private sector in both South Africa and America, Sharon responded to the US invitations by taking her 45-member performing group on a 5-week, 8-city US tour. 100,000 fans screamed for more at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, just one of their stops. They were an instant hit, selling out all their CD’s at the first concert.
From Disney World’s International Festival to the New Orleans Jazz Fest, from Harlem to Hampton, Memphis and Cincinnati, and from Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing to Washington, DC’s Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts, Sharon Katz & The Peace Train thrilled audiences of all ages with the unstoppable beat and amazing harmonies of South African music and dance.