Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Racial Justice | Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Blues Artist Whitney Shay Hopes New Album Will Inspire Fans To 'Stand Up'

Cover image for podcast episode

Shay is a four-time San Diego Music Award winner. Her new album debuted number one on the Billboard Blues Chart.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things about our world, but thankfully we've discovered that it can't stop. The music musicians have been hosting virtual performances, getting together with each other and their audiences online. It's not the same as it used to be, but it's happening and we're grateful for it. So this year, without the usual in-studio performances, we wanted to do our part to support San Diego's music and music artists with a virtual KPBS summer music series. First up is a four time San Diego music award winner, including best blues artists and 2019 artists of the year. Whitney Shea, she's known as a blues vocalist, but her style goes beyond any one genre. She joins us to talk about her new album, which debuted at number one on the billboard blues charts and about what it's like being a musician. During these uncertain times, we begin with our song far apart, still close,

Speaker 2: 01:01 But we both to have someone that we missed. So you [inaudible],

Speaker 1: 01:25 That was far apart, still close by Whitney Shay off her new album. Stand up. Hi Whitney. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much. And so happy to be here. Your new album, as I said, stand up is very positive and fun. What inspired it? I really just wanted to make music that made people feel good that made them dance and really just kind of communicated an overall theme of empowerment, whether that's female empowerment or just empowerment to people of all races and genders. And I'm just really excited that this album being my first, all original album has really given people, especially in this current world that we're in just something to look forward to a breath of fresh air. Shall we say? And how do you describe your music? Genres are kind of something the labels kind of created to market and sell music.

Speaker 1: 02:25 So for me, it's been interesting in my journey since I love the roots genre and specifically black music in general, but I love jazz, jazz music, blues soul. And so it's hard for me to just say, I like guess, and this is what my music is. So that's why I say high energy Redmond blues that makes people dance. Now you said that you have a real affinity for black music and white artists like yourself who sing in traditionally black music genres like blues are sometimes accused of cultural appropriation. Have you thought about that and how do you respond to that criticism?

Speaker 3: 03:04 I've thought about that a lot. And especially in the current political climate that we're in, um, I feel, and I've always felt that I'm a guest in the musical art form that I'm in. I always like to say appreciation, not appropriation. And I realized that, you know, growing up in Southern California, I don't have the same experience that, you know, a black person living in the 1950s in Mississippi does. And I recognize that and I recognize my own personal privilege for that. Now, does that mean that I don't completely love the music and find some, you know, glean some personal relationship to it? Yes, I do. I love it. But I realized that I'm a guest in the genre and I never tried to claim it as something that I have any ownership to.

Speaker 1: 03:54 You said your new album stand up was full of new songs, stuff that you've written, but you started out playing cover songs. So how difficult was that transition?

Speaker 3: 04:06 It was interesting because coming from a theater background, the texts that you interpreted as an actor is usually not your own. It's usually something you're interpreting. So when I first started, I always considered myself an interpreter of other people's music. And I think that there is beauty to that. And a lot of people are very successful and I definitely started my career doing that. But for a long time, I didn't really feel that I could consider myself in some way, a true artist until I was making my own music. And so that's been a really important part of my journey the last few years, especially that I really wanted to focus more on crashing songs and spending time on writing. And so that's why it was so important to me to really carve out a significant amount of time before we started this album, just so I could craft the songs. And luckily I have a wonderful composer and songwriting partner that I got to do that with.

Speaker 1: 05:11 Let's hear another song off the album, stand up. This is you. Won't put out this flame

Speaker 2: 05:18 In the dog and you'll notice this box. The fuse has been lit must be with, but now you battled back [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 05:46 That was you. Won't put out this flame performed by Whitney Shay, your new album debuted at number one on the billboard blues chart. At the same time you filed for unemployment, how has this pandemic affected your career as a musician?

Speaker 3: 06:02 There was an article that came out with the, with the headline, you know, singer hits number one on billboard files for unemployment the same day. And at first I was a little taken aback and embarrassed even by that headline. But then I realized, well, unfortunately this is the reality that we're all facing right now and not just in the entertainment industry, but in every industry, people have faced challenges, finding work and finding full time employment. Well, this year 2020 was going to be probably my biggest year yet. This was my chance to really tour in the rest of the U S and really establish myself in the European market. But I like to say that the universe teaches us balance and we kind of have to learn to adapt. So artists really have turned to live streaming turn to learning, recording software and video editing.

Speaker 3: 06:59 And we've had to become more well rounded artists, but what do we do when the world doesn't come back when Broadway theaters and music venues, aren't able to come back after this pandemic? I mean, that's the question that we're all asking ourselves. And unfortunately, none of us have the answer, but I am seeing that people really, especially online, they desperately need music and they desperately need art to pull them away from what's going on in the world. And I really hope that society as a whole will recognize that and we'll be able to, as artists continue to make a living

Speaker 1: 07:42 Well, you know, despite the unanswered questions you were talking about, it's, it's obvious. You can just hear it in your voice, that you've stayed positive and productive through this quarantine. Why don't you tell us about the song you're not alone and what inspired it?

Speaker 3: 07:57 So this project was just an important way for us to say thank you to all the essential workers that are out there on the front lines. During this pandemic, we recorded the song all sheltered in place during quarantine, with musicians from the United Kingdom, Brazil, Austin, Texas, and here in San Diego, California. It's a way for us musicians to come together and collaborate on a project and just really to bring people joy and this time, because if anything else, people really need something entertainment, music, art to look forward to during these dark times. So this is just our way to say thank you and bring joy to people. [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 09:39 That was your not alone by Whitney Shea. You can watch the video online at kpbs.org/summer music series at Whitney Shay performs August 15th at chords and cars, a drive in concert at the Del Mar fairgrounds. Join us next week as our summer music series continues with guitarist, Israel, Maldonado

Speaker 2: 10:52 [inaudible].

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.