Ask a thoughtful question that will inspire a personally insightful response. That’s the mission of an interviewer. We just spoke with Janiva Magness and achieved our goal.
Tahoe Onstage: Many artists don’t like to be labeled a blues performer. Does it bother you?
Magness: The blues as a genre is the music of very hard-working people. It’s the music of the American people. It really is. It’s not the kind of thing you get very far with if you are phoning it in or faking it or pretending to be something that you’re not. You just don’t get too far with it because people feel that. They may not necessarily even have particular knowledge or understand the ins and outs of it, but they experience it and believe in their heart and their chest in their experience of the music.
“I have no doubt when I hear Freddie King say, ‘What are you going to do when the welfare turns its back on you?’ I know that he has a deep and very painful understanding of what that experience is. So do I. So when I heard that, it stopped me. … He’s speaking to me. This is personal. I don’t know anybody who can fake that or phone that in. Because of that kind of connection, it lifts me up. It lifts my sprit. It brings light to my heart. And that is the value. That’s what I start to chase. I chase that experience of connection. I start to chase that feeling that I’m not alone in the struggle, in the journey, in the victory of coming out the other side, that I’m not the only one.
“And that, my friend, is what for me is what blues is, as a music. So I ain’t got no problem with it. I am trying to be straight up. It’s important to me. I don’t give off-the-cuff, backhanded answers. I am trying to tell the truth.”
Magness onstage is just as honest and passionate. This year for the fourth time was named Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. And in 2009 she joined Koko Taylor as the only women to be named B.B. King Entertainer of the Year.
One of the tracks from her latest album, “Stronger For It,” was Song of the Year. It was her 10th solo album, and third in six years with Alligator Records.
“About every other year, I seem to give birth to one,” Magness said. “People are really embracing it. Especially the original tunes. I am very grateful for that. It’s always nice to be asked to go to the prom again.”
She referred to three songs she wrote: “There It Is,” Whistlin’ In The Dark,” and “I Won’t Cry,” which was Song of the Year.
“I always take my work personal,” she said. “I always have and I suspect I always will. That’s not to say anything disparaging about any of my previous releases because I feel very good about those. But this one’s at a different level.”
Magness said she is fortunate to work through life’s circumstances by releasing them through her art.
Magness’ tragic youth has been well documented. She is a seven-year spokeswoman for Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Campaign.
Being a musician also is conducive to someone in constant motion.
“I am an alumni of Foster Care system, and a lot of us come out with that feature,” she said. “We’ll call it a feature. I don’t have a stigma. I know what I am. It took me a long time to understand what and who I am, but I’ve got it now.”
Bluesdays: Janiva Magness
When: 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 23
Where: Village at Squaw Valley