ELECTRIC PIANO: Pop On In For The Sterlin & Shuvette Show
Author: David Gignilliat | Photographer: John Brackett
It’s a few ticks before nine o’clock on a breezy Wednesday evening at the Electric Piano, one of Hilton Head’s most popular musical hangouts. Sterlin and Shuvette Colvin walk in the front door past a sign outside that says “Not your typical piano bar” and into the club. They’re the entertainment tonight.
Sterlin, an accomplished pianist and singer, says a few hellos and sits down at the Yamaha YP365 keyboard. He tickles a few ivories and settles in at the spot that will be his home for the next several hours. Dressed in a white vest, black tie and chunky, black-framed glasses, he looks the part of soulful singer and piano player.
Shuvette, the island’s resident musical diva, sidles up to her perch on a chair behind her husband, lobs a few smiles to familiar faces and loosen up her smoky, soul-cutting pipes with a few vocal exercises.
A few minutes after nine, Sterlin scans the crowd and lays down the first few bars of “New York, New York,” the Sinatra classic.
Start spreading the news,
I am leaving today,
I want to be a part of it,
New York, New York.
And with that familiar refrain, another fun musical evening on Hilton Head Island has begun. By 9:15, every seat in the house is full, save for a few reserved tables near the club’s front door.
Sterlin and Shuvette are what you might call musican’s musicians. Sterlin attended the the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., a prestigious high school dedicated to arts education that’s launched the careers of Dave Chappelle, Johnny Gill and Meshell Ndegeocello, among others. Shuvette, whom Travel & Leisure Magazine once referred to as Hilton Head’s “local diva,” once had some chart success with the R&B group Snow in the early ’80s and also played with local favorite Rosco.
A Sterlin and Shuvette show means many things. A trip down memory lane for some, or a chance to hear novel takes on old and new for others. Both Sterlin and Shuvette are charismatic performers, and their entire set at the Electric Piano is made up of guests’ requests, making each show unique. A staple of an S&S performance is the fun banter between the artists and patrons, peppered with witty quips, stories, call-and-response and off-the-cuff audience/artist banter.
“You can have the keyboard player if you have enough money,” Sterlin later jokes during a between-song guest repartee.
“We would probably describe ourselves as very entertaining R&B duo, a little of old school meets new school,” said Sterlin. “We like to get people dancing, but we stress the entertainment.”
And it’s that lively audience interaction that’s become a calling card of sorts for the talented couple.
“We live in Ohio, but we make a trip to this piano bar every Wednesday night when we’re in town,” said Nobby O’Sullivan, one of the many patrons at Electric Piano that late-summer evening. “They play the music I liked to listen to when I was growing up in the ’60s. They bring back a lot of good memories.”
Sterlin and Shuvette begin playing the Gladys Knight classic, “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
“I love a lot of the people that I’ve met here. We’ve developed some great relationships with our audiences over the years,” Sterlin said.
“You guys are The Pips,” he jokes, beaming a wide smile to his approving audience.
“Their show is unique. It’s unlike anything on the island,” said Kelly Nemetz, one of the bar’s co-owners and its nightly cocktail waitress. “They get the whole crowd involved. Everyone’s singing along. He [Sterlin] literally can remember where every single person in the room is from, and he has a song or joke for every single one. They make you feel like you’re a part of the show when you come in here.”
You know you’ve got a good act when the island’s fellow professional musicians share in the admiration.
“Sterlin and ’Vette cover all the bases. They can pretty much play and sing anything. It’s always fun when we have a chance to sit in with each other’s act, but it doesn’t happen enough because of our schedules,” said Bobby Ryder, one of the island’s musical elite who can be found playing regularly with his quartet at the Jazz Corner. “He learned from me,” added Ryder with tongue in cheek.
The Electric Piano has hosted Sterlin and Shuvette for four years now, a treasured luxury for a piano bar in Hilton Head’s deep (yet capricious) local musical talent pool.
Owners of Electric Piano, Adam and Kelly Memetz
“We don’t just need a piano player here. We need entertainers, someone to interact with the audience and who has a story or a joke to tell,” said Nemetz. “It’s very rare to be able to find that type of talent like we have in Sterlin and Shuvette.”
“Famous Amos [the former William Morris talent agent and cookie kingpin], one of his great lines was ‘Aging wrinkles the skin, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.’ So, when you come here and you listen to the ’60s, [they] won’t let you wrinkle your soul,” one loyal patron said.
It’s summertime, and the livin’ is easy.
Fish are jumping and the cotton is high.
Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good-looking.
Hush, little baby don’t you cry.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
No, no, no, no.
Don’t cry, don’t cry.
Sterlin and Shuvette play Wednesdays and Saturdays at The Electric Piano at Unit 227, 33 Office Park Road at the Park Plaza shopping center. For more details or to reserve a table, call (843) 785-5397. For more information on Sterlin and Shuvette, please visit their Facebook page at Sterlin and Shuvette.