Q: Take us back to your childhood. How’d you get your start?
A: “I grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, and I was around a lot of people who had dreams. They showed me how to live each day with hope and inspiration. My father was promoting music, so that inspired me. He had a construction company too, which is how he made most of his money. I loved it when he let me ride with him in the dump truck. He loved music so he always had the radio playing. Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ would come on, and I would get up and sing at the top of my lungs.”
Your voice transforms considerably depending on the song. How did that come about?
“We went to church three times a week. It was Church of Christ, so there wasn’t a choir. We all joined our voices, and there were no real instructions. It was just get in where you could—so 500 people opening the songbook and giving it a go. It was one of the most beautiful things, because I would hear some people that could really throw it out there, who sounded like professionals, and other people who had rough voices or soft voices. I learned so much about singing, being around people with different types of voices. And I feel like anybody can sing. You just have to find your voice.”
And your experiences in different churches influenced you in different ways?
“When I first started singing, it was more from the lower part of my abdomen because we went to a black church and that’s how they sang. As I got older, like 10 or 11, we moved and so we went to a predominantly white church. That’s where the singing was from the head, so I learned to sing from a different place. We all have so many different voices: the morning voice, the afternoon voice, the evening voice. It’s great when my voice is fully warm and I’m ready to sing, but isn’t there something beautiful about the raspy times and the squeaky times? Why can’t it just be something that gives you pure raw emotion and moves you, and it’s not like every single note is perfection? It’s perfectly imperfect.”
Do you think your wide-ranging background is what gave rise to the variety in your songs?
“I think it definitely did. I’ve always loved where I came from, but I’ve also always loved what other cultures are doing musically. I’ve always been curious about it. Maybe moving and going to a different church and being around a totally different musical culture was the thing that inspired that first. But I also had a babysitter who was a black woman with a big afro, and she wanted to write country songs in a time when Charley Pride was the only African American country music singer. That was inspiring too. I’m constantly being more inspired by what moves me versus what the world thinks I’m supposed to write because of the way I look. [Laughs.]”