Angel-A delivers an extensive package of soul-stirring, heart pounding liberated music. A native Detroiter, currently residing in Chicago, she is a musical force to be reckoned with. Heavily influenced by a family of Jazz musicians, Gospel preachers and a city bursting with legendary Motown Music and Gospel Giants, at age 6 she began singing and playing the piano in the church; And by the age of 13, composing her own music. Trailblazing a brand new world with a captivating spirit, Angel-A delivers a brave fusion of jazz with the soul-stirring inspiration of gospel. Taking her cues from Sarah Vaughn, Billy Holiday, Gloria Estefan, and Sade, Angel-A owns the style and sophistication of a 1950’s retro couture collection. Few producers, songwriters or vocalists in this time dare to embrace pure form and express messages of substance to a wider audience. Angel-A creates a cool space for listeners to experience. Performing both original Jazz standards and soul compositions, serenaded audiences with her smooth style and charismatic flair. She has toured and shared stages with Chaka Khan, El Debarge, Oleta Adams, Pattie La Belle, Howard Hewitt, Eric Roberson, Dr. Bobby Jones, The Clark Sisters, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Rance Allen, The Winans and many others. These days Angel-A continues her journey as a producer performing with a jazz band or teaming up with DJ/artist/ producers like Tony Humphries, Vick Lavender, Roy Davis Jr., Stephanie Cooke, Tony Loreto, Jose Carretas to name a few.
I recently chatted with Angel-A to talk about her career, new music, and 2018 goals.
BW: I noticed you have a jazz and gospel background. How did you get started singing?
Angel A: I started singing in church. My mom and aunt were in the same choir so on Thursday nights we went with them to choir rehearsal and I’d imitate the director. I joined the choir when I was in kindergarten.
BW: Was it one of those youth choirs that churches usually have?
Angel A: Yes [laughter] absolutely, I grew up in a large church. The youth choir had about 120 people. I really grew up in that choir. By the time I was 11, it clicked for me that music was my thing. I would sit down and play. I started to play what I heard in my head. That happened because I’d come home from choir rehearsal and I’d bang out the parts and harmonies I learned. I was learning chord progression.
My reading was nowhere near what I was playing. My uncle, who was a jazz musician, asked me, “Do you know what you are playing? I would say no. He took me under his wing and he said he was going to teach me my chords. It opened up my hearing, then came the writing. I was learning so much and it was so much in my head. I couldn’t wait to get it all out. So the teachings from my uncle combined with my time in the youth choir, I was meeting other young people who did what I did. By the time I was in 10th grade, I knew over 100 people who did what I did. We were kindred spirits; we were sharpening each other’s tools. Composing our own music, my levels of hearing had really grown. We were doing string compositions. The family and school and singing with choirs and community, plus the influences made that foundation for me and gave me a Launchpad to find my own voice.
BW: Who were some of your influences? Were they just jazz and gospel artists?
Angel A: Not all of them but many. I’m from Detroit, the Winans, the Clark sisters, commission, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker. It’s impossible to be from Detroit and not be influenced by them. Then there was an all-girl jazz band called Straight ahead…when I saw them they blew my mind seeing them play instruments. I thought they were incredible and I love Latin music too; Gloria Estefan, Tanya Maria, I loved the writing style of Latin music. All of these artists taught me so much. They taught me what you say and how you say is important and it can reach so many. Don’t put yourself in a box. I remember the Winans performing at Carnegie Hall. That was amazing to me as a child. They were groundbreaking to me and took risks. They were totally out the box and unlike any gospel artists we had ever seen. Those are the kinds of things that impacted me. Their willingness to go against the grain and impact the world on a higher level is inspiring to me. I love any music relating to culture. I gravitate to it. I think that’s why I love house music so much.
BW: What is it about house music that draws you to it?
Angel A: House music is a culture. It’s a world culture inside of it it’s a lot of places for liberty it’s not constricting. It doesn’t bind us up or make us say one thing. You know that as a spoken word artist. There’s room for you to express yourself without being a gospel artist or secular artists. You are an artist and the world is your platform.
BW: It’s freedom. I totally get it. Do you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
Angel A: Oh no, I had formal training, vocal coaches, piano coaches and I’ve been mentored by so many. My teachers have been gracious enough to allow me to express myself and meet me at my level. I think that’s what makes a great teacher anyway.
BW: Absolutely! That nurtures your gift and allows you to find your style and your voice. Especially since you started as a child.
Angel A: Absolutely
BW: So, where do you find inspiration? What is your songwriting process like?
Angel A: All my songs come out of my devotional time. My life isn’t separate from my music so I don’t have to create a space for it but I have to publish the moment. I have a time in my day that is committed to prayer, devotion and meditation and the things I journal about come out in the music. So in essence, I’m echoing what’s in my spirit in the music. That’s just who I am. Music isn’t just what I do; it’s a part of who I am. It’s always been that way.
I’ve always journaled and wrote poetry. I always go on the inside and try to express what’s there. My inspiration is my own devotional life. The time I spend in scriptures, prayers, meditation or the revelations I have about love, life, strength…etc. I write about daily and they are echoed in the music. I don’t want to just be a writer but I want to say what’s in my spirit. That’s what connects people and that’s what I want to do. If I can write on that level, I can reach more people with what I say. If the platform is the world and someone gives you a mic, what do you really want to say? I feel that weight. There are some things I just can’t say.
"...I feel a responsibility to say something that’s going to be water for somebody’s grass."
BW: I’ve found as a writer that to really connect requires a certain level of openness and vulnerability. That’s a balance because you don’t want to get too personal, especially if you are a private person but you also want to be authentic. Do you struggle with finding that balance between being open and vulnerable and keeping certain parts of you private?
Angel A: Wow…that’s an awesome question. I think that I’m trying to write the truth. Truth is so much bigger than me so it’s hard to take it personally. I am trying to say something that’s going to last forever because the truth is ever present. I think I’ve mastered that vulnerability. I realize when I sing, people are gonna see me sweat, my nose run, my hair swell up, my weight gain…it’s all out there! The great thing about growing up in the church is that I don’t know any other way to be. It’s always been that way in church so I’m used to being exposed to a certain degree. I’m much more comfortable on stage then I am in a vocal booth because I’m used to being exposed or vulnerable on stage. I get the gravity of the question you asked and what I’ll say is that it’s a part of the sacrifice that I have to live my life in a way where I can be ok with being transparent with my audience. There are just things I cannot do because it doesn’t go with what I do.
BW: Would you say you have a musical style? How would you describe your music and sound?
Angel A: Whew…girl… the word I would use is Soul Music. The blues, gospel, jazz, it’s a soul piece to all of that and I’m influenced by all of that so it’s all in there. Then the emotions, the mind, the will of soul music, that’s a piece of the person I’m trying to speak to in my music. It’s all Soul Music.
BW: How do you prepare for live performances?
Angel A: Most of what I deal with is in my heart and head. I’m trying to make those two things connect. I always say one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. There is a piece of you that has to go above. The technical part of a live performance, the sound, the production, etc., those are all things you have to be concerned with but it can’t be just the technical stuff. You can’t take the people higher if you don’t go first. As people connect with the music they follow you on that journey. That’s where they are touched deeper and inspired.
"I want to inspire and touch. I want there to be joy and strength in the performance. Everything I want the audience to receive, I have to have it first. I meditate and sing in my spirit. I’m pouring into myself first so I can pour everything in me out into the audience."
BW: How did you start doing house music?
Angel A: Before I moved here, I had a big release party at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit and it was awesome. It was an experience and on that day, I proved to myself that I was ok. For many years I struggled with the whole, “you aren’t R and B enough"; you aren’t “gospel enough. Too much this and not enough of that". I was struggling with my own voice and how to get it out. That night, I sang all my own music and prerecorded it, Angel Eyes is the name of the project and I had an after party and some DJs were there. I’d always loved house music, since high school. In my mind, I heard my music at that rate. I figured I would create original music and look for DJs to remix it. When I got to Chicago, I met Roy Davis Jr, Gene Hunt, Glenn Underground, E-smooth…etc., and got a chance to connect with them. E-man and Doc Link had Liberate recordings and they took a chance on me and we put out “Escape” and then “Lift me higher” and it kept going. It grew from there. I don’t know if I chased it, I think it found me. When you play and write, you have a lot to bring to the table.
"All producers are not musicians so when you walk into the room and have a different skillset, you are respected more. I think that’s what helped me break in."
BW: Talk to me about “Be “Lifted”, your newest single. Where did the inspiration for that song come from?
Angel A: There is a story to this song. I wrote B-lifted the day of the Inauguration. I felt like my community was depressed.
BW: We Were! [Laughter}
Angel A: It was such a day. It rained in Chicago. The day Obama gave his farewell, it stormed that night. I remember telling my mom, something is going on in the heavens. I felt the shift. So the day of the inauguration, I didn’t watch it but I remember saying I’ve decided to dance in the rain on Facebook. I realized I had to say something to myself. I felt the weight of how we all felt that day. I was echoing something I knew was true; “lift up your heads…you gotta encourage yourself”. Sometimes you gotta say that to yourself sometimes. It was a message to myself and to my community. That’s where that song came from.
BW: What does the future hold for Angel A? What are the goals you’ve set for this year?
This year I’m releasing “Believe”. It’s the 1st single for an EP and a live album, "Angel-A Unplugged". The live album is a big deal. I’ve decided my best voice is my live voice. It’s my real voice! I want to be authentic. I want to share and it’s my moment to unplug from everything. It’s been a transitional moment for me. My son is away at school and I’m reclaiming some time. I’m embracing it. I’m looking forward to the unplugged album!
We have some amazing parties coming up too that I’m so excited about.
BW: Thank you so much for speaking with me today! Good luck with your live album!!
Angel A: Thank you and I appreciate what you do so much. You are really doing the house community a great service. It’s an awesome way to honor each other and the music and the culture to keep it going.
BW: Thank you so much!
Check out Angel-A's music on the following websites:
New single with Vick Lavender out on March 30th!