As told to Kindra Hall
Four-time Grammy Award-winning R&B legend
Music has always been a part of my life, an ancestral thing for me. Most of my mother’s side of the family sang and wrote songs or were preachers or evangelists. In the South, evangelists are synonymous with singing. My mother was a singer, Motown wanted to sign her. In fact, the first original song that I knew was one my mother wrote for me to learn the days of the week when I was a child.
I started writing music after graduating high school. I was good at English, I was good at music so I just took those two things and put them together and started writing my own songs. Then in college, I took my first paycheck from the bookstore where I worked and bought a guitar (which apparently wasn’t a good guitar—someone saw it and gave me a better one) and I wrote more.
Then one night, around that time, I had written three songs and decided to play them one night at a little spot in Savannah, Georgia. I remember I closed my eyes and sang my song and when I opened my eyes again, everything had changed. People were standing and clapping. People had come in from outside to listen. All I remember was all these people—it was so dramatic. I went home and told my mother what had happened. Though she loved music, having had her own taste of the industry, she had encouraged me to pursue an education instead. But something changed that day.
Not long after that, I’ll never forget, I was walking past the kitchen and my mother stopped me and said, “Let me ask you a question.” I could tell she was serious. “Do you want to sing in the kitchen? And at church like me and your aunts? Or do you want to really take a chance to be a singer?” I looked at her and said, “I want to take a chance.” And she said, “Take it seriously.” And so I did, and I have for the past 20 years since.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by Duan Davis