Award-winning blues artist Janiva Magness coming to Park City
March 26, 2013
Award-winning blues vocalist Janiva Magness has experienced her share of hard times, and it was the blues that carried her through those challenges.
When she performs at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, March 30, she will share her love of the music, and, hopefully, help others who are feeling down in the dumps.
"Blues was the only music that made sense to me," Magness said during a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles, Calif. "When you stick around long enough, life will pretty much put you through everything, and this music lifted me up and above the many things life has done."
When Magness was a teen, she lost both parents to suicide and found herself living on the street before entering the Foster Care network that helped her come to terms with her life and focus on her future.
Through it all the music was there.
"I started out as a young kid who could sing all the TV theme songs and all the commercials," she said. "That came quickly and naturally to me."
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That young kid turned into a young girl who loved to listen to the radio "obsessively," Magness said.
"Then I turned into a girl who listened to her records over and over and over," she said.
While living in Minneapolis, and still underage, Magness sneaked into a nightclub to see Otis Rush.
"That helped me turn into a young woman who loved going out to hear live music," she said.
From then on, Magness went to as many shows as she could and found comfort in Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins.
A few years later, Magness decided to try her hand at singing.
"I’m kind of a late-bloomer in the music business, and I didn’t start out by coming to the blues as a career," she said. "It was more like I was bitten by the bug in a serious way, and tried later on in my life to sing."
The urge to sing was stronger than her fear of failure.
"I auditioned for things and I got everything I auditioned for, which, in hindsight, is pretty funny," she said. "So, I kept on singing."
Her determination paid off.
In 2006 and 2007, Magness was named the Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year, and in 2009, she received the Blue Music Award for the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, becoming one of only two women (the other being with Koko Taylor) to receive that honor.
"The Blues Music Awards are like the Grammys of the blues, and those awards are huge for me," she said. "They’re like a really big fat ‘yes’ from the universe. It’s an honor to be recognized by a group, a demographic, of people who largely are committed with their hearts and souls to the preservation of this glorious American art forms known as blues.
"To be held up and honored by those who support the work of blues musicians, living and dead, and fans and writers, means everything to me."
The awards also scare her.
"Not in a bad way," she said. "But I’m never the person who anticipates being told ‘yes.’ I never expect the universe to pat me on the back, and when it happens, it’s glorious and a little scary.
"I’m am deeply honored and humbled, because I feel what I do is a privilege, and anybody who is in this business that doesn’t recognize that is confused," Magness said. "It is a privilege to travel around the world and do what I love to do with an amazing band, and perform for people who use their own money to buy tickets and buy CDs."
A few months ago, Magness released her 10th CD, "Stronger For It."
One of the differences between this CD and the others, Magness said, was her involvement with the songwriting, something she hasn’t done on the past nine albums.
"I co-wrote three songs with my producer Dave Darling," she said. "I feel very fortunate and lucky to work with him, because he is so talented."
Those songs are "Whistling in the Dark," "I Won’t Cry" and "There It Is."
Darling encouraged Magness to start writing some songs, and the sentiment was reflected in the support from her label, Alligator Records.
"So, I decided to take a stab at it," she said. "It was unnerving all the way through, and I’m really grateful and relieved that people dig those songs."
When choosing the remaining nine songs for the disc, Magness tapped into her own emotions.
"I have found that I can kind of sing almost anything, but I have to be moved by the story of the song to make it work," she said. "I have to tell the truth in the process of doing my job. I have to bring myself to the craft, and in order to do that, I need to have a deep connection with the story."
Although "Stronger For It" may sound like a concept album, Magness doesn’t like to choose themes for her releases.
"That just makes me nervous," she said. "I try to stay out of the way and allow those types of things to evolve during the process of recording."
While the blues has helped Magness come to terms with her emotional life, she credits Foster Care as the help she needed to continue pursuing her dreams.
"There are two main reasons why I’m here today," she said. "One is the music has held me up and carried me through a lot, and the other is because someone stood up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself when I was younger.
"The final placement was what changed the end of the story for me," she said. "I stand as a witness that the tragedies of my life no longer define me and I needed to hear that."
Magness, who is an ambassador for the Foster Care Alumni of America, is also the spokeswoman for National Foster Care Month, which is in May, but that doesn’t stop her from celebrating the organization 365 days a year.
"My purpose for being a spokesperson is to encourage and inspire more good people to step forward for youth at risk," she said. "We need more good people to step forward, and it doesn’t matter how much time they think they have. They need to understand there is something they can do to help change the lifetime of a child at risk, even if they have five minutes."
Meanwhile, Magness is looking forward to her trip to the Intermountain West.
"I can’t wait to play for you all, and I’m just looking forward to being back on the road to see all the people who have received and enjoyed the current record," she said.
Award-winning blues vocalist and Foster Care spokeswoman Janiva Magness will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Saturday, March 30, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and available at http://www.parkcityshows.com . For more information about Foster Care, visit http://www.fostercarealumni.org or http://www.nationalfostercaremonth.org or janivamagness.com.
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