From Loan Officer To Lounge Singer: How Fred Sanford Turned A Passion Into A Job

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Fred Sanford, lounge singerFred Sanford was 57 years old when he realized that he needed to come up with a Plan B -- and fast. Working as an Orlando-based financial adviser for Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. in 2007 and 2008, he was writing the second chapter of a business career that was highlighted by his work selling loans for mortgages.

But by 2010, his commissions dried up, and he'd decided that his work was no longer "fun." (While working in the mortgage business for 18 years, Sanford says that he never budged from his stance of only selling realistic loans to people who had enough money in the bank. He had always felt selling subprime mortgages "was taking advantage of people who couldn't afford it," he said.)

And so he faced the crisis known to countless Americans, in mid-career, in the wake of the recession: What next? In his case, he set about a career change that would turn his long-time passion for music into a job.

Sanford, married for 38 years, had always loved performing. After graduating from Northwestern University in the early 1970s, he'd perform in show-bands, playing 7 to 10 instruments through the course of a performance like an old-fashioned music man. The variety performances featured the musicians taking on emcee roles at performances and doing comedy routines. Sanford's group, the On Stage Majority, which specialized in big-band ensemble performances, got so popular that it counted a mailing list of some 13,000 followers at its height in the mid-1970s.

But when the disco craze arrived, Sanford knew that the show was coming to an end. So he decided to follow his brother into the mortgage business, moving from smaller regional banks to big names like Chase and then Merrill Lynch. Having entered the housing market in 1986, when he says the market was "hot," Sanford made a comfortable living and was able to support his family, which includes two kids.

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But with the housing bust, Sanford decided to return to his song-and-dance roots. He'd largely stayed on the sidelines of the entertainment industry. But when his career path turned into a dead end, the choice to transition back to music was a "natural one," he says. He began performing covers of musical acts he calls Boomer tunes like hits from Elton John. In addition to singing the covers, he also accompanies his act on the synthesizer.

He's taken his act, known simply as Fred Sanford Music, to venues in the Orlando area ranging from wine bars and country clubs to retirement communities. He says that he prefers intimate settings, which allow him to interact and include his audience in the act. His wife often joins him onstage for a duet.

He says that he hasn't been able to replace his income fully through his singing, but along with side jobs and the music, he's able to cobble together a living. The feat is impressive; as AOL Jobs reported last month workers in their 50's who lose their job are about 20 percent less likely to find a new job as compared to workers between the ages of 25 to 34. (His wife also pitches in -- teaching autistic children in Florida's Orange County school system.) Instead of working on a sale, I spend my time thinking about how to make the evening better," he says. "It's great not putting on a tie everyday."

%VIRTUAL-hiringNow-topCity%And he's got his fans, like Randy West, 58, who works in personal investments in the Orlando region, and who follows Sanford to wine bars in the Orlando area.

"He's got this soothing, mild and pleasing style," says West. "He reminds me of Billy Joel. It brings me back to an easier time in life."

In spite of the obvious differences between working in music and mortgages, Sanford says that there are overlaps, including the chance to serve others.

The gratitude of putting on a popular musical performance was often matched during his time as a loan officer. Being based out of the Chicago area meant he often had Hispanic and Polish immigrants as clients, who were pursuing their American dream.

Sanford said that it was very common for these clients to go into a home purchase with no trust in the American banking system, and so they would only deal in cash. But sometimes, and often with the help of a translator, he was able to get the families to agree to a loan that would allow them to buy their first American home.

"That brought me a great deal of satisfaction," he says. "This was about setting a goal, and I felt this is what business should be about."



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