The husband-and-wife duo, who met at a jazz conference in 1991, often perform together around the Lansing area. Even before meeting Newman, Wilkinson was accustomed to having a musical family. Her father was a minister and her mother a choir director.
"We always sang in the house," said Wilkinson.
She began singing professionally at 18. Since then, she's explored a vast array of genres.
"My sound has been through so many changes," said Wilkinson. "I started out singing rock ‘n’ roll and folk and classical. I've sung every kind of music there is."
Forty-five years into her career, Wilkinson is well settled into the swing of jazz. Her musical and life partner, Newman, teaches music theory at MSU and is a former head of MSU’s Jazz Studies program. The duo has picked out a slate of jazz classics for Thursday’s show.
"We'll play some classic jazz standards," Wilkinson said. "It's going to be so much fun."
Wilkinson’s voice, which she describes as a "clear, pure, intimate sound," works particularly well in smaller venues where audience members can pick up on every nuance.
"And it doesn't get any more intimate than what we're doing at the Turner-Dodge House," she said.
The salon-style concert is presented in the Turner-Dodge House's music room, a cozy space that invites conversation between artist and audience.
"The salon style is gaining popularity in major cities for its intimate concert feel," said Michelle Reurink, board member for the Friends of Turner-Dodge, which sponsors the Music at the Mansion series. "You feel like part of the concert and not an outsider looking in."
Proceeds from the show benefit the continued restoration and preservation of the house, which was damaged in the massive ice storm that struck the area in 2013. Since then, Friends of Turner-Dodge has worked to repair the damage and maintain house features like light fixtures and fireplace tiles.
"The goal is to keep the house at the condition the Turner family would have kept it," Reurink said.
The original occupants of the house, the Turner family, built the home in 1858. The daughters of the family frequently played music for family and friends. The youngest daughter, Abigail Turner (later Abigail Turner Dodge), was particularly talented and studied classical piano in Germany.
"Music was always really important in the house," Reurink said. "Over the years, we've tried to bring music back. Music at the Mansion was born to provide the same sort of atmosphere that the family would have had."
Music at the Mansion
With Sunny Wilkinson and Ron Newman 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11 $20 Turner-Dodge House 100 E. North St., Lansing.
(517) 483-4220, lansingmi.gov/tdodge