Sunny Wilkinson

Photo of Sunny Wilkinson
Sunny Wilkinson (Sunny)
Adjunct Professor, Applied Jazz Voice
1203 Dalton Center, Mail Stop 5434
Mailing address: 
School of Music
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5434 USA
  • B.A. Arizona State University

The daughter of a Methodist minister, Sunny Wilkinson grew up in Minnesota singing in the church. She started playing trombone in the fourth grade and continued into college, where she played and sang in a "Blood, Sweat, and Tears"-style band. She also participated in the jazz band at Arizona State University, where she majored in choral education and was first exposed to jazz music. 

After graduating from college, Wilkinson moved to Los Angeles to pursue her singing career, and spent fifteen years there as a performer, teacher, jazz recording artist and session singer (she put both sons through college on the residuals from “Saved By the Bell”). After meeting her future husband at a jazz convention in 1991, Wilkinson moved to Okemos, Michigan, in 1993 to have a family, fall in love with trees and green, and continue making music full of joy and beauty.

Wilkinson has sung with jazz icons such as The Count Basie Orchestra, Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass, Clark Terry, Lee Konitz, Mark Murphy, Milt Hinton, Curtis Fuller and many more. She has recorded four CDs as leader and has guest appearances on many more. Her latest CD is a duo project with pianist Tom Garvin entitled A Gentle Time – When Sunny Meets Tom. “The musical empathy that is shared by these two artists is truly extraordinary…Sunny Wilkinson is at the top of her game here. She has spent a lot of time refining her craft in the trenches and now emerges as a master songstress able to get inside of a song and find its essential emotional core." ~ Don Mizell, co-producer of “Ray Charles, Genius Loves Company.”

Wilkinson has also made significant contributions in jazz education. She has been jazz faculty at Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Cal State Northridge, Fullerton College, and the Dick Grove School of Music, and has taught numerous private voice students. She is an artist in residence at The University of Michigan and Hillsdale College. Wilkinson also developed a mentoring program for young women jazz musicians called “Sisters in Jazz” that was taken to an international level through the International Association for Jazz Education. In July 2014, she was faculty for a week-long jazz experience in Maiori, Italy as a part of the Amalfi Coast Music Festival. 

Wilkinson is very proud of her former students, many of whom now lead vocal jazz programs at universities around the country and have successful careers as jazz performers and recording artists. Looking ahead, she is excited and passionate about continuing to share her music with audiences and students everywhere.