A warm breeze blew over the Hess Center lawn as Caitlin Sugita ’18 took the stage for her final KFC performance. Cheers erupted and continued throughout her performance.
“Singing is a universal art form,” Sugita said. “It brings me so much joy when people come up to me after a performance and tell me that they really needed to hear certain lyrics I sang at that moment in their life.”
Sugita’s journey as a singer began at a young age. She grew up in Jakarta, in a household where both her older sister and grandfather loved to sing. Frank Sinatra and Queen were the “soundtracks of [her] childhood.”
“Although my father is essentially tone deaf,” she joked, “it was almost inevitable that I would come to fall in love with singing.”
Sugita has never taken formal singing lessons, which shocks most of her friends.
“For me, it all started in my shower and the backseat of my car,” Sugita said, describing how she learned to harmonize with her sister. Her singing eventually spilled into public performances at interscholastic theater productions in Jakarta.
“The earliest memory I have is of my first solo during a Valentine’s Day performance — my class performed the song ‘L.O.V.E.’ and I was the letter L. I remember being so excited and I practiced for hours in front of the mirror,” Sugita said. She went on to star in many musical theater productions back home, such as Belle in Beauty and the Beast.
When she was 12 years old, she began uploading covers to SoundCloud.
“My earliest covers were terrible and are now private. They were a capella, and entirely recorded on my iPhone 4 in one shot — for everyone’s sake,” she said. Sugita has composed songs for many years, but has never released any to the public.
When she entered Deerfield in 2015, Sugita immediately connected with the choral director at the time, Daniel Jackson.
“Mr. Jackson encouraged me to embrace my style of singing and my individuality as a singer,” Sugita explained. “He never tried to alter the character of my voice and I really appreciate him for that.”
Kento Yamamoto ’16, a good friend, commented, “For someone who was never classically trained or had vocal lessons, Caitlin’s vocal skills can’t be compared to an average high schooler, let alone vocalist.”
He described her voice: “It reminds me of some renowned vocalists featured in Spotify’s ‘Butter’ playlist, which describes her singing — it’s smooth and just makes you feel like you’re melting.”
Last year, Sugita co-founded Deerfield’s coed a cappella group with four other singers. It marked the addition of a third a cappella group to Deerfield’s campus, alongside the traditional Rhapso-D’s and the Mellow-D’s. For the past two years, Sugita has led the group to many successful performances. In addition, she also sings for the Rhapso-D’s, Deerfield’s all girl a capella group.
“I am so grateful for how dedicated everyone in the group has been to making good music. Good harmonies and good blending gives me chills — the good kind,” Sugita said.
Christina Li ’20, another co-founder of Deerfield’s coed a cappella group, praised Sugita: “Her leadership is shown during every single practice. We meet during weekends and sometimes people don’t want to be there, but it is obvious she wants to make quality music.”
Alongside her passion for music, Sugita has maintained focus within the classroom.
Fine Arts Teacher David Dickinson, Sugita’s academic advisor, said, “She is dogged about her studies. She will lock herself up in her room and just grind away for hours on end … I think music has been a great release for her.”
Sugita has performed in all six KFC’s during her time here at Deerfield, and has also performed multiple KFC promotions during School Meeting.
Mr. Dickinson, who founded KFC in 2007, commented, “In a strange way, KFC has brought her out of her shell … She didn’t have to prove herself for any adult. She did it for herself.”
Along the same lines, Sugita said, “Singing has given me a voice and allowed me to give other people voices or outlets for their emotions — it has taught me to be confident.”
Recently, Sugita collaborated with Jackson Cohlan ’18 and Dylan Nagle ‘17 on the song “American Adolescence.” The song was a project started to raise awareness on some of the problems that teens in the twenty-first century go through everyday.
Cohlan commented, “I first approached Caitlin after hearing her on Soundcloud. … As soon as I heard her I recognized that she was extremely good at harmonizing and I needed to work with her.”
Producing music is no simple task, but these three were able to complete “American Adolescence” within two months. Jackson added, “It is really easy to find the chords to match her voice because of her natural talent in harmonizing with the music. I expected the process to take a lot longer, but she definitely expedited the process by weeks.”
Sugita has a mini professional microphone in her room at Deerfield as well as a studio set up at home in Jakarta. Although she hasn’t yet released any original pieces, she maintains a SoundCloud account where she regularly posts covers.
Next year, Sugita will attend college at Cornell University and plans to continue singing a capella while honing her interests musically and academically.
“Growing up, my home was always alive with music. Sinatra and Queen songs were basically the soundtracks of my childhood.”
– Caitlin Sugita