Janiva Magness — one of today’s premier blues and R&B singers and recently nominated for five top Blues Music Association awards — will bring her powerful voice and charismatic stage presence to The Palms Playhouse at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb 28.
Magness’ voice is by turns rawly honest, heart-achingly nuanced, sultry, richly mature, caressingly gentle and indignantly outraged.
Some singers get anchored in place by their mic stand, others look like they’re standing awkwardly alone at a cocktail party during instrumental breaks and can’t quite figure out what to do or where to look — but not Magness, who strides fearlessly across the stage, rests her fingertips on the corner of bandmate Jim Alfredson’s Hammond B3 keyboard and closes her eyes when crooning softly. The result is an electrifying and dynamic show.
A childhood spent in the foster care system of Detroit brought more than its share of heartbreak, and Magness credits music and a few advocates within the system for her beating the sad statistical odds that faced her. Magness’ experiences forged a strength that she now channels into her music — and into her advocacy work for foster care.
Not after pity, Magness instead has used her success with music to bring attention to the foster care system; she takes her positions as ambassador for Foster Care Alumni and spokesperson for National Foster Care Month seriously.
Magness’ most recent album, “Stronger For It” (2012), is an arresting case in point of how her life and music are intertwined. Born out of a year that saw eight deaths of beloved friends and relatives and divorce, “Stronger For It” fully acknowledges the darkness in life; however, through Magness’ nuanced and powerful vocals and excellent band, the album avoids sounding morose or self-pitying.
“Stronger For It” includes three songs she wrote, a step she says was “terribly frightening and completely exhilarating.” But after what she understatedly refers to as “a pretty bumpy year,” this seemed like the right time to take the plunge and give literal voice to her own words.
With “Stronger For It” leaping to the top of the Blues and Roots and Living Blues radio charts and appearing on a host of best-of lists for 2012, audiences and critics agree with her choice.
Last year, Magness won a writing award for Song of The Year (“I Won’t Cry”) and Contemporary Female Blues Artist of the Year, which she also won in 2006, 2007 and 2009. Previous plum awards include the coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year; she’s only the second woman to win it, with Koko Taylor being the first.
Magness fronts a five-piece band that showcases her vocals and adds a rich and varied texture to the music. In addition to Magness on lead vocals (and, occasionally, cigar box guitar), the band is Jim Alfredson (Hammond B3 organ and rousing keyboard), Zach Zunis (guitar), Gary Davenport (bass) and Matt Tecu (drums).
Tickets are $20 and are available at Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters and at the door if not sold out.