Warren Center woman sings into people's hearts
She sits at her computer. A kitty quilt drapes over the chair back, and a bag of candy sits by the keyboard. Music plays on the computer.
She sings: "Yooooou left me ... just when I needed you most. Yooooou left me ... just when I needed you most."
Not high, not low, her voice flows like a spring creek - clear, strong, cool, rippling gently. Streaming from a spring deep in her and washing through the air, it looks for a parched heart to refresh and nourish.
Meet Denise Bruce Sehlmeyer, from Warren Center. You may also know her as Darlene Marie McCoy - her stage name. She is a singer.
"I've been singing my whole life!" she says with a laugh. And how can she not sing? She has the voice. "I've always had a range from a tenor to a soprano I," she says, maybe a little less now. She's got the heart. A happy, friendly woman, she has a face and arms blooming with smiles and hugs. The tunes just follow.
It's been a winding road, though, veering between success and discouragement. But the music has always flowed on.
This weekend will be a high note, if you will, as Denise gives a concert of Christian music at the South Warren Community Church (along LeRaysville Road a few miles north of LeRaysville). The concert starts at 1 p.m. Saturday, and all are invited. A high school friend, Terri Chubbuck Peck, may join her for a duet.
"I don't fit into any category," Denise says. Her two CDs have a country flavor, but she can sing practically anything. She has hundreds -no, thousands- of songs filed in her mind.
"God gave me a talent, I know. I touch people's hearts," she says.
Still, that doesn't make it easy.
Denise grew up in the Neath/Warren Center area and graduated from Northeast Bradford High School in 1984. She sang in her school chorus, at county and district chorus, and at religious services.
"That was my way of escaping," she remembers. Her grandfather recorded her and told her she had a God-given talent.
But she lacked confidence. Sure, she got compliments. "I guess I never really ... I thought people were just being nice."
Life took her from Pennsylvania to Tennessee to Texas, where she met her husband, Dan.
"My husband brought me out of my shell."
After they moved to the Adirondacks area of upstate New York she got into music more seriously. She began performing and helping DJs with karaoke, often singing into a headset under her hair, letting people think it was the radio. "I was still hiding!" she says. "I was always afraid to let people know it was me."
According to a biographical sheet, she sang at restaurants, Legions, VFWs, community events, wherever they needed a voice. She's developed a special sense, a way of knowing what people need to hear.
Once she performed on the Lake George boardwalk, strolling around and singing into a headset mikeas a man and his wife walked by.
"That was her singing," the wife told the man.
"No, it wasn't," he insisted. "That was the radio!" He knew it was some Nashville star.
"No, I'm telling you ..." the wife insisted. So she bet him $20. "I'm betting you that she's really singing!"
"OK," he said.
They strolled through connected stores, Denise following. Finally she broke the news to the man: "Sir, you owe her $20."
The days went on, Darlene Marie's music went on. By the way: Why do they call her "Darlene Marie McCoy"?
Seems someone in a bar used to introduce her as "everybody's singing darlin'." The drunk people thought he said "Darlene." There you go.
Dan came up with "McCoy." As he looked out over audiences, he saw what looked like a field of men's hats. That made him think of "hatfield." That made him think of "McCoy," from the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud.
Denise learned of another singer named "Darlene McCoy," so they added the middle name to set her apart. They thought "Darlene Marie" sounded good, and it would let her drop "McCoy," for a less-country sound, if she ever wants to.
But it was a life of ups and downs. In the mid-90s she found herself getting tired of it. Bars were discouraging. It seemed there was "nobody really listening," she remembers. She was "not really making a difference."
Denise was scheduled for a concert at a celebration in a park. She decided it would be her last.
So she performed. As she sang, a family walked by with a special-needs boy of eight or nine named Seth. He was unable to walk, unable to talk. He screeched and the family stopped.
"While he was listening to me he was very calm," Denise remembers. He tapped his feet and tried to sing.
They moved on and Seth threw a fit. He wanted more!
"He's absolutely in love with you!" his mom told Denise.
Denise made a tape and later took it to the family and they sent it to school with Seth and the same thing happened - the kids in his class calmed when they heard it.
Well, maybe she'd try something: "In 1997," the bio explains, "Darlene Marie entered Wood End Studio and recorded three original songs. In 2000 Darlene Marie entered Serenity Sounds Studios in Hudson Falls, N.Y., and recorded six original songs. One and a half hours later they were recorded, compiled with the first three from '97 to form a limited-production charity CD. In its limited local release and sales span, it netted the charity $1,800." That money went to help Seth and his school.
Later, Denise visited him. He started yelling: "Dar! Dar! Dar!"
Seth had never spoken before. Denise and his mother cried. Later, Seth learned to walk with braces.
"Just because of the music," Denise says. "I don't think it was me."
Maybe she wouldn't quit after all.
She and Dan ran a company called Unicorn Entertainment Productions, and under it they had Starlight Karaoke, Night Lights DJ and Darlene Marie McCoy Live Performances. With a band, she performed all over that part of New York, into Vermont and "almost to Canada," she said. A rival group offered to pay their way to Nashville if they'd leave, but they didn't.
In 2004, though, life changed again. Denise's father had health problems, so Dan and she returned to Warren Center. She has held positions at Lockheed Martin and Ithaca Space Systems, and today she's with Sykes, a virtual contracting center, and works online from home.
She kept singing and life held a surprise.
"In 2006," her current bio explains, "Darlene Marie began performing on the Internet at MCTMG, where she could often be heard on MCTMG Radio's Saturday night concerts, where she is a preferred performer. While singing at MCTMG Darlene Marie's unique country voice captured the attention and ear of Record Producer Brandon Lynn Shane of Mirror Image Records."
Brandon had one question: Want to record in Nashville?
"Yeah, right," Denise scoffed.
"Oh, I'm dead serious!" he declared. "You have a big following!"
She went to Nashville. In 2007, the girl from Warren Center recorded "I Can't Stop Loving You Today." The next year she went back to make "Typical American Girl." (The cover features a photo of the old-time Sinclair gas station in Warren Center.)
Both albums are on the Mirror Image label and play on independent radio stations.
"This album got rave reviews!" Dan said of "Can't Stop Loving You."
Denise's press kit glows with comments from music folks:
"Darlene is a new singer on the country market and this CD shows she has what it takes!" (Indie World Country Record Report.)
"You have a way of bringing out the best in whatever song you sing. You have a very bright future in the music business." (Ed Gowens, Echota Records producer/song writer)
"Darlene Marie is like Patsy, Jeannie C., Loretta and Reba all combined in one beautiful package." (Jody Dickey, Internet DJ and promoter)
"Yoooou," Denise sings. She click-clicks her computer. In a moment, she's doing a different song, a somber melody about a soldier. She closes her eyes and moves her head. "He's gone but not forgotten ... his legacy ... remains forever. ..." One leg's tucked up under the other, her foot bobs to the beat.
"Rest in peace. Tell Jesus 'Hi.' ... Oooh, oooh, tell Jesus 'Hi.'"
Even here in her little office, she was nervous about singing. But the music, that cool stream, flows now.
"Once I open my mouth, I lose myself in the song," Denise says. Her emotions come out.
"My dream was always to make an album. I got to do two of them."
God gave her a talent and now the girl from Warren Center knows it's all about one thing: "Making a difference in people's lives."