Making a Scene Present an Interview with Janiva Magness
Grammy nominee, B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Song of the Year, Contemporary Female Artist of the Year. As a 7x Blues Music Award winner, 28x BMA nominee, meet Ms. Janiva Magness.
At nearly 62-years-old, currently with 14 studio albums to her name, she shows no signs of slowing down. Magness is currently recording her 15th studio album – her third with Blue Élan Records – and is scheduled in 2019 to publish her highly anticipated memoir titled Weeds Like Us.
After Janiva Magness added a 2016 Grammy nomination to her 26 Blues Music Award nominations — with seven wins, including Entertainer of the Year — she might have taken at least a short rest on her laurels. Instead, one of the preeminent voices in contemporary American roots music has raised the bar for herself. Magness’ 15th album, Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty Change in the Weather!
As if spotlighting that, Magness carried a pair of boxing gloves on the cover of 2016’s Love Wins Again, which earned her a Grammy nomination and cemented her crossover success in the Americana music scene. That year she also performed at the Americana Music Association’s annual festival in Nashville. And, indeed, Magness fought some tough battles before she launched her career. She lost both parents to suicide as a child and was placed in a dozen foster homes. But, inspired by the encouragement of her final foster mother and a galvanizing performance by the legendary bluesman Otis Rush, she found stability and salvation in music.
Having been initially inspired by the music in her father’s record collection, an underage Magness attended an Otis Rush concert in Minneapolis that changed her outlook. Magness later recalled, “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.” Studying to become an engineer, she worked in a recording studio in Saint Paul, Minnesota, when she was coerced into doing some backing singing. Her work, which included backing Kid Ramos and R. L. Burnside, led her to Phoenix, Arizona and in forming her own band, the Mojomatics.
Since the early ’80s, Magness has built an impressive career in American roots music, brick by hard-earned brick. She has traveled millions of miles, sung on thousands of club and festival stages, and made a string of recordings — including five albums and the 2017 EP of standards, Blue Again, with Darling — that have earned accolades and awards.
Beginning with 2014’s Original, she has also emerged as a talented songwriter. That album entered the Billboard blues chart — where her titles routinely appear — at number five and topped the blues radio charts, as did Love Wins Again, which remained in the top 10 for seven months and crossed over to the Americana charts. Those two albums spent several weeks each on the Americana radio chart including the Top 25. Her seven Blues Music Awards include the highly coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award. She is only the second woman, following blues giant Koko Taylor, to receive that honor, which was given to her by B.B. King himself as well as Bonnie Raitt.
“Getting a Grammy nomination was a dream,” Magness offers. “I never thought I’d be a Grammy-nominated artist. But I guess I also feel a certain amount of pressure to follow that with an album that really makes a statement — a statement about who I am and what I believe and the music I love. Love Is an Army does all of that, and I hope it helps somebody else to be as inspired and empowered as I was when we were making it.”