Crystal Shawanda grew up on the Wikwemikong reserve on an island in Ontario, Canada, Her parents raised her on Country music, but it was her oldest brother who introduced her to the blues. He would hang out in the basement cranking Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Etta James, and Crystal would sit at the top of the stairs, straining to hear those soulful sounds. She learned early on, by observing her family, that music was like cheap therapy. That’s what the blues is all about: releasing and healing.
While she was secretly pining to be a blues mama, out on stage it was Patsy and Loretta. She started performing country at six and started getting paid gigs at 10, relentlessly playing every stage she could.
Crystal and her dad started taking frequent trips to Nashville when she was 12. She recorded her first album when she was 13 and moved away from home that same year to attend music school. Crystal got restless however, and dropped out at 16 to move to Nashville. She didn’t know anyone but was determined, so she spent days playing where she could and busking in between.
During a chance meeting with a well-respected music executive, Crystal was told, “I just don’t know if Native Americans make sense in country music. I don’t know if fans would be receptive and I wouldn’t even know how to market you.” Crystal tried to take the critique with composure, but would end up moving back home to her reserve and abandoning her dream. Shawanda set out on a dark, self-destructive path, but no matter what, always found herself back in front of the microphone.
She finally came to terms with what was bothering her. “If I was out of tune, I could take voice lessons,” she reflects. “If my song was bad, I could write another. But I couldn’t change the colour of my skin.” So Shawanda moved back to Nashville one more time with a mission to prove him wrong. She paid her dues, playing at Tootsies Orchid Lounge six days a week, and managed to build up a buzz and land a production deal with Scott Hendricks. She was later signed to a record deal with RCA Records by Joe Galante, who had heard Crystal cover B.B. King and Janis Joplin. This venture produced a top 20 song on country radio and the highest selling album by a Native American in BDS history.
After this, she found herself feeling like a fish out of water. She says, “I so wanted to be what everyone wanted me to be, I lost myself along the way.” So Crystal took some time off and, one day while watching the news and feeling overwhelmed by the headlines, she walked into her music room, picked up her guitar and wrote “The Whole World’s Got the Blues.” This was the start of her first blues album.
“The songs just fell out of me and throughout the recording it was like setting my voice free,” she says. “I can’t help but feel like I’m home, no longer holding back.”
Crystal’s latest album is a modern take on the blues, but is deeply rooted with heart-wrenching laments and catchy rump-shakers. It’s where the north meets the south and captures the resilience of the human spirit – much like the way Crystal does.
Roots and Blues is thrilled to have Crystal Shawanda in the 2016 line-up and along with her solo concerts, she’ll be participating in one of our major theme concerts with Digging Roots and other artists.
“Shawanda is a powerful performer on and off the stage. Humble and talented, Shawanda is passionate about her craft. Never giving an audience less than her best.” – PPCORN ENTERTAINMENT WEB