Raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Tim Sparks was given his first guitar when a bout of encephalitis kept him out of school for a year. The music he heard around him was traditional country blues, and the gospel his grandmother played on piano in a small church in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so that's what he taught himself to play.
He was nominated for a scholarship at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts. There he studied the classics with Andrés Segovia protegee Jesus Silva.
While recording three albums with the seminal vocal jazz ensemble Rio Nido, Sparks also became proficient in jazz styles from Brazilian to Bebop, which brought him several regional music awards including Best Acoustic Guitarist, Best Latin Jazz guitarist, and Best Jazz Guitarist in the Minnesota Music Awards. In 1993 he won the National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas playing his adaptation of The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky.
In the late 90s, Sparks had been immersed in the ethnic music scene and accompanying on guitar in Greek and Klezmer orchestras. He was a featured performer with Crossing Borders at the Bethlehem International Music Festival in July of 1995 and has received two Arts Fellowships to pursue ethno-musicological studies. He spent one fall studying Fado and Portuguese guitar in Lisbon. In 1989 he arranged Russian folk music for the Guthrie Theater's adaptation of Uncle Vanya and in 1991 he was commissioned to compose music for Tienanmen, a ballet depicting the student uprising in China, for Myron Johnson's Ballet of the Dolls.
In 2000, Sparks began an association with American composer John Zorn. He recorded three highly acclaimed CDs of Jewish Klezmer music adapted for acoustic fingerstyle guitar on Tzadik Records. He earned a McKnight Fellowship to notate and edit the arrangements on Neshamah for publication.
Sparks continues to perform in concert and is currently a faculty member at the University of Minnesota—Morris.