At the end of July, kicking back at the funky Bamboo Room (see our previous post on South Florida clubs) in Lake Worth, Fla., we had the pleasure of hearing the blues vocalist Janiva Magness. Janiva (pronounced JAN-i-vah) has been singing the blues since the early ’80s and has received numerous awards, among them the B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year (2009) and Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year (2006, 2007 and 2009).
If anyone is qualified to sing the blues, it’s Janiva. She lost both parents to suicide at age 16 and gave up a baby girl for adoption the following year. But the blues, she says, saved her. Her love of blues music began when, underage, she sneaked into a nightclub in Minneapolis to hear Otis Rush … and the rest is history. (For more on her life and the blues greats who’ve influenced her, visit her website, which is full of articles and reviews.)
Now, at 55, she’s clearly on a roll. Taking charge of both voice and body, she squeezes every bit of emotion from a song’s lyrics. She woos you with defiant wails and sasses you with alternating shoulder pumps. One moment she’s triumphant, looking up; the next, she’s doubled over, as if in pain. That’s when her voice, suddenly husky, drops an octave, like a plummeting elevator. Yes, Janiva sings her guts out.
Each member of her band of four — guitar, bass, keyboard and drums — is an excellent musician in his own right. (A recent review said her band was “tighter than a duck’s ass.”)
Janiva has had to deal with more stress lately, including the death of a brother and the end of her 17-year marriage. But the blues have, once again, kept her on track. She’s even started to compose her own songs, which, she says, was a major step for her. Three of them appear on her new album Stronger for It, released by Alligator Records. They have been well received.
Janiva also has a cause: foster care. For years, she’s been the spokesperson for Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Month and is an ambassador for Foster Care Alumni of America. She promotes her cause at the end of her programs—and there are always “alumni” who come up to give her a hug.
On this Thursday night the crowd at the Bamboo Room is giving Janiva lots of love. If you get a chance to hear her in person, do so. Through November 2012, Janiva will appear at clubs and festivals in the Midwest and West. Check out her tour schedule here.