A few months ago, my fiancé and I decided to go to a Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings concert in St. Petersburg, FL. Jones’ music has a funky, soulful sound that conjures up soul music from the 60’s and 70’s . As a cancer survivor, Jones spiritually sings her songs on stage with an up-beat attitude while dancing around and inspiring the audience to move. Before she came out on stage, a woman named Valerie June was set to open the show with some of her own songs. I had never heard of her, but when she stepped out on stage, I was in awe with her overall voice, performance, and ability to conjure up an authentic raw emotional reaction in the audience.
Her voice is memorable and she easily changes out from guitar to banjo. One of my favorite albums is called, “Pushin’ against a Stone.” Her musical style conjures up a bluegrass, soul/folk sound that immediately reminds me of the south [which is where I live]. In 1982, June was born in Tennessee and was exposed to gospel music at her church growing up. The gospel-like sound is used in her music where she adds her own signature style to the genre.
Her hair, alone, has garnered much attention. [Yay for natural hair!] She has thick long locks that accompany an absolutely stunning face. More importantly though, her song-writing abilities conjure up a particular nostalgia for bluegrass and folk, genres which have largely been appropriated by white men. She has an eclectic style and a particular grace on stage that is captivating. You seriously have to experience it for yourself.
I am absolutely inspired by Valerie June and her musical flexibility. As a young musician of color myself, it is exciting to see a young woman unapologetically create her own art. I am so tired of walking into bars and seeing all white men play blues or rock music all of the time. I think it’s safe to say that white men have essentially appropriated almost every style of music that was initially created by Black folks. [I mean, you can even think of Macklemore]. The misogyny and whiteness surrounding music culture today is astounding, so it’s utterly refreshing to see women like Valerie June reclaim their place on the stage, holding their guitar, and singing loudly.
Oftentimes in music today, women occupy the front of the stage, but they are usually not featured with instruments and are supposed to be the sexy side-kick to the guys in the back who are the ones who actually play the music. I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve been to where the woman in the front is decked out in a “sexy” outfit and just wiggles around on stage as the men in the back get all of the attention for producing great sounds. In the performance I saw, June had a very minimalist vibe to her performance where she featured one or two other musicians on stage, but the focus was on her.
I think we need more musicians like Valerie June: she makes her own music, is unique, has natural hair (!), and knows how to emotionally move you.
If you haven’t already, check out her website: http://valeriejune.com/