Singer Sharon Udoh, also known as Counterfeit Madison, is possibly the most interesting person you will ever meet. Raised in Cincinnati by two Nigerian, extremely religious parents, Udoh wasn't allowed to listen to secular music. She began taking piano lessons at 7 and then started playing hymns in the church.
Madison, an out lesbian, learned about art at The University of Cincinnati and, by her third year, discovered Prince, Radiohead, Weezer, Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson. At one point, she became involved with 14 different bands and moved to Columbus, Ohio, to start a new life.
Under the name Counterfeit Madison, she eventually released her first album, Opened and Shut, in 2013. Udoh followed that with Opposable Thumbs in 2017, and her live Nina Simone cover album can be found on Bandcamp, along with those first two records. She is currently dropping singles from an upcoming third album, Knucklehead.
She talked about music and her private life after a recent performance at Beat Kitchen.
Windy City Times: Where did the Counterfeit Madison name come from?
Sharon Udoh: In high school, I ran cross country and we ran on a street named Madison Avenue. I was slower and heavier than everyone else. I would stop halfway and hang out in a park with homeless people. I would join them again when they would run back and they never knew I couldn't complete it. I finally confessed to them and one of the runners gave me a jersey that said, "Counterfeit Madison."
It represents coming clean about something. It's a come to Jesus moment!
WCT: You were raised by very religious parents?
SU: I grew up Pentecostal and was repressed for so long. My mom and I don't speak. It has been a year since we have talked. She didn't call on my birthday this year.
I didn't listen to secular music until I was in college and I am still catching up. I have cultural problems too, since my parents didn't grow up here. There are holes in American pop culture for me, and then add religion to it. I was sheltered. I'm really surprised that I am functioning!
WCT: Did you always dream of being in music?
SU: I was scared to go to music school, but I played piano in the church since I was 7 years old. I was always taking lessons and a very musical person.
WCT: Were you a Nina Simone fan?
SU: I didn't know who she was until I was 29 years old. I was working in a bakery and I heard a voice on the radio and it sounded like me. I started listening to her and at the time we looked almost exactly the same. I had the cropped short cut and wore long dresses.
I did a tribute show of her in 2016 after a lot of research.
WCT: Where does your makeup style come from?
SU: It has changed over the years. I used to wear lipstick a lot. Now that I have this nose piercing, I don't wear much makeup. I like looking like a little gay boy.
WCT: How do you identify?
SU: I'm an androgynous female. I don't feel as attacked anymore when someone says, "Excuse me, sir." I continue to figure out what I am. I thought for a while I was trans, but I don't feel any dysphoria in my body. I just feel like an odd girl.
Get this: I'm a lesbian married to a homosexual man and I have a female partner.
WCT: You have all the bases covered.
SU: It's really new for me. The more I try to fit into a box, the less it works.
WCT: Let's talk about music.
SU: We are shopping things around. I don't want to self release my album and would like a record company to help me release it. The songs are written and it's ready to go. We have been releasing singles with another coming in October. I want to keep things relevant.
WCT: Your "Frank" video looked fun, with all of the dressing up.
SU: That video is actually about dating. When people go out on a date they want to look their best. That video is about me presenting my best self in absurd ways. I've been on so many bad dates.
WCT: "I Hope It's Alright" has Inspector Gadget in it?
SU: Yes. I shot that video here in Chicago with Women of The Now. I try to come to Chicago at least twice a year.
WCT: What other songs do you have coming out?
SU: We have a video for a song called "So Much to Give." It's about a risquÃ© relationship that I was in with someone much younger than me. There was a lot unspoken. We both had girlfriends at the time.
Our relationships were both dumpster fires. We were trying to run out from our relationships by hanging out all the time. It was not good.
WCT: Is there a song of yours that deals with your family history?
SU: It has only been recently that I feel I can talk about my family life. I didn't want to talk about it because I thought I would break and talk to my mother, but I haven't.
WCT: What else are you doing the rest of the year?
SU: I am going to Iowa City to do a worksop on Nina Simone. I am doing a small tour in October. I work at a school, so I can't do too much.
I am an actor in experimental theater and the crew is all going to Australia in January.
WCT: What do you want people to know about you as an artist?
SU: I am going to put a spin on that question. When they look at me, I want people to know they can be themselves. They can challenge their egos and admit they are wrong. They can open themselves up and really change. That's sometimes hard for people to do!
See "Counterfeit Madison" on Facebook.