30 January 1957 (age 61)
Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, United States
Award-winning vocalist Janiva Magness is among the premier blues and R&B singers in the world today. Her voice possesses an earthy, raw honesty and beauty born from her life experience. A charismatic performer known for her electrifying live shows, Magness is a gutsy and dynamic musical powerhouse. She received the coveted 2009 Blues Music Awards for B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year (she is only the second woman to ever win this award, Koko Taylor being the first) and for Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year, an honor she also received in 2006 and 2007. She has received eleven previous Blues Music Award nominations. USA Today declared, “Magness is a blues star,” and The Philadelphia Inquirer said, “Magness sings superb, potent soul-blues with a scorching intensity.”
Magness has been performing for almost three decades, logging thousands of miles on the road and appearing 150 nights a year at clubs, theatres and festivals all over the world. Her longest road trip yet was to Iraq and Kuwait in April 2008, as a co-headliner of Bluzapalooza, the first-ever blues concert tour to perform for American troops. The tour was an incredibly profound experience for Magness. “My job is a gift. It’s about human connection, to remind people they are not alone. I can’t think of anyone in greater need of a break than these soldiers. Those kids came up to me and said, ‘You made me forget where I was for two hours. Thank you!’ That was beyond priceless.”
Magness released a series of independent albums, including two on the Northern Blues label, prior to her extraordinary 2008 Alligator Records debut, What Love Will Do. Her new CD, The Devil Is An Angel Too, co-produced by Magness and Dave Darling (Brian Setzer, Meredith Brooks, Dan Hicks), is a hard-hitting collection of material that explores the depths of good and evil, with Magness’ glorious, soul-baring vocals burning their way through twelve powerful songs. “All of us have a light and a dark side. Human beings are capable of the most incredible acts of kindness and absolute wretchedness. This record explores both sides,” Magness explains. She wraps her huge, soulful voice around original material written especially for her, and songs from Julie Miller, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Joe Tex, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, Ann Peebles and James Carr. From the haunting, seductive title track that explores evil masquerading as good to the spiritual awakening of “Walkin’ In The Sun” to the revenge tale of “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” and the joyful proclamation of “I Want To Do Everything For You,” Magness cuts to the heart and soul of each song with grit, heart and fierce passion, making The Devil Is An Angel Too her most compelling release yet.
Although Magness is now a bona fide blues star, her rise to the top was far from easy. Born in Detroit, Magness was inspired by the blues and country she heard listening to her father’s record collection, and by the vibrant music of the city’s classic Motown sound. By her teenage years, though, her life was in chaos. She lost both parents to suicide by the age of 16 and lived on the streets, bouncing from one foster home to another. At 17, she became a teenage mother who gave up her baby daughter for adoption. One night in Minneapolis, an underage Magness snuck into a club to see blues great Otis Rush, and it was there that she found her salvation and decided that the blues were her calling. Magness recalls, “Otis played as if his life depended on it. There was a completely desperate, absolute intensity. I knew, whatever it was, I needed more of it.” She began going to as many blues shows as possible, soaking up the sounds of her favorite artists, including Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins. She immersed herself in records by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and all the other R&B greats.
Listening to these blues and soul artists, and watching them live, sparked Janiva and gave her life direction. Her first break came several years later, while working as an intern at a recording studio. She was approached by her boss to sing some supporting vocals on a track. Finding her voice, she soon began working regularly as a background singer. By the early 1980s, Magness made her way to Phoenix and befriended Bob Tate, the musical director for the great Sam Cooke. With Tate’s mentoring, she formed her first band, Janiva Magness And The Mojomatics, in 1985 and before long the influential Phoenix New Times named her group the city’s Best Blues Band. After three more independent releases, Janiva signed with Northern Blues and recorded Bury Him At The Crossroads in 2004 and Do I Move You? in 2006. Both CDs were co-produced by Magness along with Canadian roots star Colin Linden, and both garnered Magness a tremendous amount of critical and popular attention. Magness and Linden won the prestigious Canadian Maple Blues Award for Producers Of The Year for Bury Him At The Crossroads in 2004. Do I Move You? debuted at #8 on the Billboard Blues Chart and was the #1 Blues CD Of The Year in 2006 on Living Blues magazine’s radio chart. Blues Revue said, “Magness is a bold and potent artist with a powerful, soulful voice… impossible to forget.”
Magness signed with Alligator in 2008 and released her stunning label debut, What Love Will Do, to massive critical acclaim. The Chicago Sun-Times raved, “Her songs run the gamut of emotions from sorrow to joy. A master of the lowdown blues who is equally at ease surrounded by funk or soul sounds, Magness invigorates every song with a brutal honesty,” while Blues Revue called her “a blues interpreter of the highest rank…punchy and tough…swaggering, incendiary vocal performances.” Allmusic declared, “rollicking blues, swampy soul and R&B…stark, gritty, emotional material…terrific, magnificent voice. She rips into ballads with moving and riveting tenacity…she burns through these songs like she’s got everything to prove.” Fueled by all the positive press, Magness was profiled on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, putting her in front of an audience of millions and expanding her ever-growing fan base.
In addition to her musical accomplishments, Magness is reaching out to help others. She is a National Spokesperson for Casey Family Programs (her fourth consecutive year), promoting National Foster Care Month. “It is a huge honor and a daunting responsibility. But I am very excited to be a part of it, and I look forward to carrying the message of hope for youth in the foster care system,” says Magness. “Casey Family Programs does groundbreaking work, and I am deeply honored to work with them again.” Magness has also reconnected with her daughter, and is now the proud grandmother of an eight-year-old boy. “Our fate doesn’t have to be our destiny,” she says. “I’m living proof of that. And I’m so very grateful.”
Magness is also incredibly grateful for her Blues Music Award for B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year. “Winning Entertainer Of The Year is overwhelming to me,” she says. “Being the only woman besides Koko Taylor to win this award is just staggering. I adored and worshipped Koko for so long that it’s really hard for me to wrap myself around it, but I couldn’t be prouder of that award. It’s very humbling, because I still can’t believe that people find me worthy to stand in her company.”
Janiva Magness’ deeply emotional music, sung with passion, conviction and soul, and her telepathic ability to connect with an audience, assures her place among the blues elite. “We need real music now more than ever because it gives us strength to pull through tough times,” says Magness. “We need it in a real bad way. Blues is a ray of hope. It articulates what’s lacking in people’s lives.” With The Devil Is An Angel Too and her explosive live shows hitting cities across North America and Europe, Janiva Magness continues to spread her empowering message of hope through music.
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