Dreams Change: Nashville performer follows her heart into education career

Lalania Vaughn’s Gospel album.

Emma Davidson
Oxford Stories

When you’re talented, you are noticed, and it’s happened to a Memphis theatre and choir director more than once.

When Lalania Vaughn owned a private voice studio, she took her students to a national competition in Nashville. Her mother talked her into entering the adult competition, and she won first place. This award led her to open for country music icon Loretta Lynn at one show.

After opening for Lynn, Vaughn was approached by a producer who wanted to work with her as a country singer in Nashville. She recorded and wrote songs for a year with the producer, but a few weeks before they were scheduled to meet with record labels, she began praying for God to show her what her true calling was.

“There’s another side to the industry that you don’t see,” Vaughn said. “It’s not just watching performers in concert. It’s not only a rigorous industry, but it’s a very hard one emotionally on anyone, especially when you have a family.

“The more I was in the circuit, behind the scenes, and saw what it would take for me to be gone from my family, I really believed it wasn’t what God called me to do.”

Vaughn closed the door on the Nashville music industry and was soon approached by a leader from Tipton-Rosemark Academy, a private Christian school in Shelby County, Tennessee. While vocal performance is her passion, teaching is her calling. It’s a job she’s had for more than 20 years.

Vaughn is a singer, songwriter, performer, and director from Memphis who encourages her students not to settle or assume that your dream is too big. Life has taught her to follow her heart and that dreams change.

“Definitely pursue your passion,” she said. “Don’t sit it on a shelf and say it’s too far out of reach. God may have called you to do that, so it can never hurt to try. When you get opportunities to perform and show your talents, take them.”

During her senior year of college, Vaughn was named Miss Lambuth University. Since her job at Tipton-Rosemark, she has been selected as a Top 10 Music Educator for 10 years straight. She was recognized twice by the U.S. Congress for her work as an educator. Before teaching, she sang at the Grand Ole Opry and released her own Christian album “Work of Art.”

Vaughn has been nominated for the Memphis Orpheum Theatre High School Musical Theatre Award “Outstanding Music Direction” for the past six years and won the award in 2015 for the production “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” out of 38 music directors across the Mid-South.

She also sang at the 2016 Trump Rally in Millington, Tennessee with 15,000 people attending. She and her husband were selected as the Millington Star’s 2019 “Man and Woman of the Year” for their dedicated service to the community and the Mid-South.

Born Into Music

Born in Savannah, Georgia, Vaughn moved with her family to West Point, Georgia on the Alabama-Georgia state line. Her house was in Georgia, while her backyard was in Alabama.

She began doing community theater and commercials in elementary school and auditioned for her first movie, “Annie,” when she was 11. She lived in West Point until she was 16 before moving to Jackson, Tennessee.

Vaughn attended a private Christian school, much like the school she currently teaches at, called Springwood School, now Springwood Academy. The school opened in 1970, and she was a student there from 1973 to 1986 before moving to Jackson.

Springwood School had a strong theater department, and her advanced placement English teacher was also her theater director and a big life influence. She was involved in fine arts in school and church. As a member of First United Methodist Church, she sang her first solo at age 4.

Both of her parents were musicians and choir directors. Her mom was a vocal performance guitar major in college, and her dad was a business major.

Vaughn attended Northside High School in Jackson her last two years of high school. Northside did not have a theater program, so she continued doing community theater at the Jackson Theater Guild, including two major shows.

Her last high school show was “The Sound of Music,” and she played the lead role of Maria. Luckily, the vocal professor for Lambuth University attended the show to watch the band director’s son as Captain Von Trapp. As soon as the show ended, she approached Vaughn offering a full ride to become part of the Lambuth music program.

At Lambuth University, Vaughn studied vocal performance and won scholarships as a member of the Show Choir and theater department. Everything at Lambuth was paid for, except books, thanks to her role as Maria in “The Sound of Music.”

Vaughn’s husband, Cary Vaughn, also attended Lambuth University as a communications major. He was a football player who also loved the fine arts. He did theater productions throughout college and met his future wife in a show.

“In college, Lalania was a cut above everyone else in regard to maturity, spirituality, and overall ability,” he said. “When I saw her perform, or even interact with people on campus, I knew that she was something special. When we started dating during the production of ‘Grease,’ I realized she was the one for me. After 29 years together, it is evident that she is a true gift from God.”

During her senior year, Vaughn was cast as Sandy in the show “Grease,” and Cary Vaughn landed the role of Danny. Their first kiss was on stage at Lambuth University, and their love grew daily.

The summer after she graduated, Cary and Lalania married and moved to New York when Cary received a scholarship to Circle in the Square Theatre School on Broadway.

After almost two months of living in New York, they moved back Jackson, Tennessee so Cary could finish his senior year. They both became heavily involved with Bellevue Baptist Church performing in Bellevue Passion Plays and the Singing Christmas Tree.

“We both love performing even though we didn’t pursue a formal career in it,” she said.

Lalania Vaughn

As a short job while Cary was finishing his final year of college, Lalania worked as a travel agent. She sang at a Christmas part for the travel agency and knew the agency had a job opening. Her boss told her she had a great personality, worked well with people, and the agency would love to hire her.

Star Studios

After a year of working with the agency, the Vaughns moved to Memphis where Lalania opened Star Studios, her own voice lesson studio. She had more than 40 students who competed in local competitions, festivals, and recitals. This studio was open until five years ago when she decided to focus mainly on her directing and teaching responsibilities.

Lalania and Cary Vaughn have two children together. They decided to tour Tipton-Rosemark Academy, Cary Vaughn’s high school, to enroll their daughter in kindergarten. At the time, there was no choir department, only a theater program. There were music classes for elementary school, but no none beyond that age.

“I started praying that the school would start searching or look into getting a choir program for the older kids,” she said. “Little did I know that God was preparing me to be the person who would eventually give the kids that opportunity.”

In 1999, the elementary administrator called Lalania in search of a part-time elementary music teacher due to her experience operating a voice lesson studio. After accepting the job, she approached the school leader to ask if he would be interested in starting a choir program for middle and high school.

“He was reluctant, but said, ‘If you think you’ll have some interested students, you can open it up and see if anyone signs up,'” she said. “We had 30 middle school and 30 high school students sign up for the program. I accepted them all because it was a new program, and I wanted to generate excitement, so that was our first show choir. Our middle school was The Rockin’ Rebels, and our high school was The Show Stoppers.”

She soon became theater director. The choir program started from nothing, and 21 years later, it is successful. Lalania oversees middle school general and show choir and middle school theater productions. She also leads the high school general choir, show choir, concert choir, girls’ jazz ensemble, guys quartet, women’s choir, and theater productions. Therefore, she holds the title of fine arts director.

After working with elementary students for a while, she realized she wanted something more challenging. Working with upper school students provided that experience.

“Maybe I didn’t become the big star performer, but I could influence someone else to do just that one day,” she said.

“A lot of students don’t realize their true passions in elementary school, but there is a bigger chance of me helping a student find their niches and goals in the upper school.”

At Tipton-Rosemark Academy, most teachers end their school days around 4 p.m. Theater night rehearsals don’t begin until 6 p.m. because Vaughn believes in letting her students participate in other activities, which usually don’t end until around that time.

Church was an easy way to continue performing since Vaughn loves worship and using her talents for the Lord. During the summers, she travels as a worship leader on mission trips to India, Uruguay, and all over the U.S. to perform at women’s conferences and shows.

Her best advice: “Never break a contact” and “Never burn a bridge.” Stay in touch with the long list of people who helped you.

“I’ve always stated that Lalania is one of the most talented singers I know,” Cary Vaughn said, “but with 23 years at Tipton-Rosemark Academy of mentoring and training young students, she has become the leader of future leaders.”

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