I’ve been a performer since the single digits. My life was filled with school and auditions by day and open mics and talent shows by night. Singing and performing has been all I’ve ever known and by the time I was seven, I already knew my purpose and was making money as a professional doing it.
But 2020 really did a number on me. I almost lost my dad to COVID, I lost my creative lifeline and livelihood as a performer, and much worse, I lost my voice. I don’t mean that I physically couldn’t sing. I mean that I could no longer identify my reason for singing. Remembering that feeling now as I write this stings, because through many struggles and, yes, some triumphs, my reason has always been what carried me. It allowed me to get back up after rejections. Feeling like I would one day get to where seven-year-old Jessy dreamed of being: on big stages, in the center with mic in hand, being cheered on by thousands. That is what sustained me.
I don’t want to recount all of the traumas I’ve experienced in my career, but what i will say is this: the doors are not exactly flying open for dark-skinned black women who exist in ANY genre, but especially not in the alternative rock genre, which is ironic, given that a dark-skinned black woman invented rock ‘n roll.
This particular season of feeling separated from my purpose started gradually and then escalated. First it was just a little break. My husband and I gave up our apartment in East Nashville, bought a camper and downsized our life for RV living and posted up at Percy Priest Lake for a while. I would get DM’s from fans asking if I was putting out another album. I’d get texts from my producer asking if I had been writing. The real answer was “no” even though I always responded with an enthusiastic “yes”. I just didn’t have anything to say and I no longer felt needed or necessary as an artist, which for me meant I didn’t feel needed or necessary as a human. I knew that line of thinking was dark and dangerous, but yet I couldn’t help but dance with it daily.
We humans are wired to be resilient.
We’re stronger than we think.
And I’m stronger now than I ever was.
I started exploring other expressions of my creativity. Through painting and visual art, I slowly began to process. Each time I created a new work I felt like I was reconciling my traumas. I could feel myself healing. And when we found out we were expecting our first child right around Christmas 2021, I took that as a sign that the tide was about to change. Those months being pregnant were some of the best days of my life. I didn’t need music to validate me. I was someone’s mother now. I channelled every good feeling I could muster and willingly reserved it for my son. I was at peace for the first time in a very long time. It was a transcendent experience that was cut short when my water broke in my 16th week. Then the darkness came back with a raging force. I was paralyzed. I couldn’t understand why this season of despair was lasting so long. Once again, I leaned into my new outlet as a painter slash sculptor.
The time in between losing our son and now is still a blur. All I know is that I had completely resigned. I’d given up. Wanting for anything was too hard and always ended in disappointment. I’d convinced myself that it was better not to dream. But when I found out that I had an opportunity to contribute musically to The Woman King, the dreamer called out from within and she wanted to have a say again.
I had been aware of the film for several months and as a movie head, I could not wait to experience it. When I received confirmation, I couldn’t help but lean into that age-old saying: “What is meant for you, is FOR YOU!” Confirmation came. It was a done deal. My song was in the film. It auspiciously happened on our son’s due date. We had decided to name him Willing, and so I knew I needed to embody the essence of his name and be willing to believe that music wanted me back. The cosmic implications were impossible to ignore. I felt like my son was sending me a message from beyond. “Don’t give up, Mommy.” I could feel him. I always do. So I put my armor on and took heed to my own lyrics. It was time to rise up.
Fast-forward to now. This song has given me more than I ever imagined it would. I mean, here we are with a freaking GRAMMY nomination! I honestly didn’t think it would happen. What I’m coming to understand in real time is that we humans are wired to be resilient. We’re stronger than we think. And I’m stronger now than I ever was.
What makes all of this even more beautiful is the lyrics that I wrote have now become my strength. I am perpetually mining and uncovering who I am as an artist, and this is what I believe now more than ever: I am here to be of service to the world, starting with Black women. I want to inspire us, uplift us, and be one of many who show what’s possible. We are light, fighting madness until it’s gone.