Janiva Magness was destined to be a blues singer.At age 16, she lost both her parents to suicide. She lived on the street. She was constantly moved to and from foster homes. And at age 17, she gave up her baby daughter for adoption.
But it’s not her somber story that laid the path for her career.
It was her father’s old record collection. It was a Minneapolis night, when she was captivated by blues musician Otis Rush, after sneaking into a club. It was TV theme songs, commercials, radio hits and artists, such as James Brown, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.
“People ask me, ‘Why’d you choose blues?’” Magness said. “It chose me. It’s the only music that’s ever really made sense in that way. I feel a deep obligation to give back that sense of connection, because it saved my life. Music happened and it took me hostage.”
With her recent album, “Stronger For It,” Magness opens up to listeners with original music for the first time in years. The contemporary blues artist has taken her story, morphed it and changed her life for the better.
“(The album) has really resonated with different people,” Magness said. “Doing original songs, for me, brings a different kind of intimacy. I want to put out quality. Anybody can make a record these days … I don’t want to serve the idea of mediocrity.”
Magness, who otherwise calls herself a music interpreter, does not normally chant her own lyrics.
“It’s very hard to make the decision to come to being willing to be vulnerable, to bring me to a level of intimacy to the listeners,” she said. “It’s terrifying. I come from a place where I don’t like people very much. They hurt you. They’re cruel.”
But her glasnost music earned her two 2013 Blues Music Awards for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year — her fourth time in this category — and Song of the Year for “I Won’t Cry,” co-written by Dave Darling, her producer and close friend. Previously, she won the 2009 Blues Music Award for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, and was the second-ever woman to do so.
Magness said she takes her job seriously — very seriously.
“The job is about human connection and the vehicle is music,” she said. “Music has tethered me to the world, to the human race.”
Magness will headline Moscow’s Rendezvous in the Park concert series at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20, in East City Park.
Rendezvous in the Park co-president Tom Preston said singer-songwriter Eilen Jewel will open for Magness.
“Janiva has that Mavis Staples gravity and power,” Preston said. “That pairing is going to have people going ‘Wow.’”
While being able to reach out to others again, Magness can relate to people that were just like her. Magness is the spokesperson for Casey Family Programs’ National Foster Care Month campaign, as well as an ambassador for Foster Care Alumni of America. She has since reconnected with her daughter and is a grandmother, too.
“I don’t have the worst story, I don’t have the best story, but I’ve got a story,” Magness said. “Turns out there’s purpose in that for me. I didn’t grow up connected with human beings. What music has always done for me, is it has helped me … and healed me. By helping me experience that, I’m not alone.”
Treffry can be contacted at (208) 883-4640 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at: @LindseyTreffry.
->if you go:
WHAT: Janiva Magness headlines Rendezvous in the Park
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20
WHERE: East City Park, 900 E. Third St., Moscow
COST: $50 weekend pass, $25 general admission, $12.50 ages 13-18
NOTE: Children 12 and under are free with an adult ticket purchase. Tickets can be purchased at the gate, which opens at 5 p.m. For more information on the concert series, visit www.rendezvousinthepark.com.