BWW Interview: Who Is Nicci Canada? A Tribute To Ella Fitzgerald
WHO IS NICCI CANADA?
Lady Ella: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald
Where are your originally from?
I was born in Charleston, West Virginia. I call myself a "mountaineer mama".
How long have you been in Charlotte?
Fourteen years ago, I moved to Charlotte, NC to be with my husband, who is also from Charleston, WV. We have two sons.
Tell me about your musical origins.
My musical journey begin in the church. I had a very strict religious upbringing. Gospel music was always a part of my journey. My grandfather sang in a gospel quartet and my father was in a musical group, as well. Of course, it was a requirement for me to sing in the church choir. I was placed in the Alto section, which I hated because my vocal range was much lower. Someone finally listened to my voice (I was straining as an Alto) and moved me to the Tenor section. Finally, I had found a comfortable place. In high school, I played the saxophone in the marching band, as well. However, my musical talents were not nurtured as it should have and I soon lost interest.
When did you develop your love for Jazz?
Secular music was forbidden in our house. It was described as the "devil's" music. It wasn't until I went to college (West Virginia Tech and Marshall University) that I was exposed to jazz. That is when I began to hear names such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone.
When did you start singing professionally?
I never thought that I would pursue music professionally. I kind of stumbled on that! While facing some financial hardships, my husband decided that he was going to purchase and learn to play the keyboards. Angry at his decision to do so at our family's critical crossroads, I went out and purchased the keyboard for him out of spite. My husband worked the night shift, so while he was away, I began messing around with the keyboard. A burst of creativity ignited within me and I miraculously began to write poetry, songs and melody lines to go along with those keyboard strokes. Suddenly, I developed this infatuation with music. One day, while hanging out in Guitar Center, dabbling with some keystrokes, a stranger approached me and stated, "If you are not pursing music professionally, you are missing your calling!" His words planted a seed in me. It was as if someone started an engine in me; I could not let it go. A year later, I compiled a demo CD. My husband worked two jobs so that I could release my first demo CD. I started promoting myself at different events and shows, "Hello, my name is Nicci Canada, I am a singer!"
Shortly thereafter, I released my first debut album entitled, 2012. At the time I was more of an inspirational singer! Again, because of my "strict" religious upbringing, I was fearful of what people would think of me. I was trying to promote my music within my church circles. Because my music did not fit within the "traditional" confines of gospel music, my music was rejected. I would receive criticizing e-mails that said, "It's a nice CD, but you made no reference to "Jesus" in any of your songs!" That used to really bother me. Finally, I got tired of being rejected and feeling that I wasn't "saved", just because I liked a different genre of music. I realized then that I had to be true to who I really am and that I had to do what makes me happy. I soon changed my circle of influence. I asked questions to those who were jazz singers and musicians concerning the requirements of being a jazz singer. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone and began mimicking them. I pulled a bit of style from each one of them and birthed my own style! Now, I can truly say, "I am Nicci Canada!"
What specific events shaped your musical journey?
From 2006 - 2012, I started my own cleaning business. This cleaning business allowed me to perfect my craft while sweeping and cleaning. I would develop songs and music during my alone time. There were days that I was knocking on doors trying to get record executives to sign me to their labels; many doors was slammed in my face. One day, I interacted with a man on Facebook named, Bob Loughry, who believed in me. He had not even met me in person, yet he told me, "There is something special about you...I believe in you!" Bob became my booking agent and started booking shows for me. On February 2014, Valentine's Day weekend, he booked me a show with the Charleston Symphony. I had never had anyone to go out on a limb for me like this.
Once again, fear reared its ugly head, and I cried because I felt that I was incapable of doing it. Bob told me, "Nicci, you are GREAT...you are going to do this!" When I got on that stage, I felt like that moment was groomed just for me - it was so natural for me. I felt like I had been performing with the symphony all my life, even though I had only rehearsed with them for one hour.
During the rehearsal, the director of the Charleston Symphony, Michael Smith, came to me and said, "I'll be honest with you, I was taking a chance on you. I booked you because another singer cancelled. I only heard one song that you sang, "Summertime" and I heard that online. I am so glad I took a chance on you!" He asked me, "Where have you been?" I responded, "Cleaning!" When the furnace is turned up in your life, some positive things...some great things can come out of you!"
The day after my successful show, I was back to my cleaning business. I began to think, "Surely, I didn't experience such an awesome moment to come back to this!" Six months later, Michael Smith referred me to the Tulsa Symphony. During both the Charleston and Tulsa symphony engagements, I sung a few Ella Fitzgerald songs. It was something about singing Ella songs that inspired me. When I hear Ella Fitzgerald, I hear love and passion. I connect with that! She is one of my favorites! She has my heart.
Do you think Nicci Canada is a compilation of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone?
Yes, I can truly say that! Nina was classically trained but she has so much Soul.
Tell me about your upcoming show on February 13, at the Little Rock Cultural Center.
I had been trying to shop the concept of the Ella Fitzgerald show to different people and kept being rejected. I came across this guy, Letron "L-Train" Brantley, who was interested in producing a show similar to what I was proposing. We were on the same page! Initially, we decided to host the Ella show in December 2015 and realized that we didn't have enough time to plan it. So, we changed the date to February 13, 2016. Letron is the musical director of the show. I am often reminded that "Everything starts with a thought"...and here we are.
What is next for Nicci Canada?
I am releasing my own jazz CD no later than May of this year. I want to take Ella around the world and make it a bigger production...even as far as Broadway.
The "Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald is officially SOLD OUT. It will take place February 13, 2016, at the Little Rock Cultural Center, 401 N. Myers St., Charlotte, NC 28202