Monday, July 2, 2012

Stronger For It: Janiva Magness Speaks

Singer Janiva Magness had a tough childhood. Born in Detroit, she lost both of her parents to suicide by the time she was 16. First she spent time on the streets. Then, she was shuttled around to different foster homes. She became a teen-age mother at 17, and had to give up the child, a girl, for adoption. But through the hardships, Magness always had music to lift her spirits. Around her house, it was her father’s blues and country collection. On the streets of Detroit, it was the Motown sound. It was a concert by bluesman Otis Rush in Minneapolis that set her on the path to becoming a blues singer. It was the intensity of Rush’s performance that struck her; he played “as if his life depended on it.” Afterwards, she took in every blues show she could, listening to artists such as Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland. She also listened to recordings by the cream of R&B at the time: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and others. Opportunity came many years later while Magness was interning at a St. Paul, Minnesota recording studio and her boss asked her to sing supporting vocals on a track. After a while she began performing regularly as a backup singer. Moving to Phoenix in the early 1980’s, she befriended Bob Tate, onetime music director for Sam Cooke. He helped her with her first band, Janiva Magness and the Mojomatics, which was eventually dubbed the city’s best blues band by the Phoenix New Times, an influential publication. Moving to Los Angeles in 1986, she recordedIt Takes One to Know Onein 1997. It was her second studio album after the cassette-only More than Live. She made three more independent recordings before joining Northern Blues in 2004. While at Northern Blues, she joined forces with Canadian roots star Colin Linden (now with Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Linden talked about Magness’ work on the Rodeo Kings' Kings and Queens album in the following interview:, who co-produced two of her CD’s: 2004’s Bury Him At the Crossroads and 2006’s Do I Move You? For Bury Him At the Crossroads, the two won the prestigious Canadian Maple Blues Award for Producers of the Year. In 2008 Magness released What Love Will Do with Alligator Records.” Her songs run the gamut of emotions from sorrow to joy,” wrote the Chicago Sun-Times of the recording. ”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.” That same year, she traveled to Iraq and Kuwait with other blues artists to perform for U.S. servicemen in the Bluzapalooza tour. In 2009, Magness became the second woman—behind Koko Taylor—to win the Blues Music Award for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. In 2010 she followed upWhat Love Will Do with her albumThe Devil Is An Angel Too. This year she releasedStronger For It, her third album with Alligator and her tenth overall. Apparently not forgetting her own upbringing in the foster care system, she has for six years served as a spokesperson for CaseyFamily Programs National Foster Care Month Campaign. She also promotes National Foster Care Month as an Ambassador for Foster Care Alumni of America. Magness spoke about her life in the following interview, which was recorded in late May after she had performed in the D.C./Annapolis area: Here, she performs "Make it Rain" from Stronger For It: Here she performs "Whistlin' in the Dark:" Thanks for tuning in. Any comments, contact us at

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