Draped in a trench coat, with a cup of hot tea steaming at her side, Jazmine Sullivan kicked off a press junket at Manhattan’s Platinum Sound Recording Studio by warning she had come down with a cold. “I’m gonna try,” she muttered, before proceeding to blast through the speakers with almost every known dimension of her voice—the range, the rasp, the runs—magnificently intact. Meeting her after this brief, intimate set, I soon discovered how allergic she is to grand pronouncements about her music, and how sincere she is in her modesty. But that didn’t help me shake the feeling that the woman who had performed three feet in front of me, whose 2008 debut,Fearless, breathed life back into late-aughts R&B, had grown into one of the all-time great soul singers. For half an hour, we chatted about her earliest experiences as a gospel prodigy, her long hiatus from the music industry, and the process of writing and recording her superb comeback album, Reality Show. –SOURCE
I recently heard you say that during your time off from the industry you developed a phobia of performing live, which surprised me because I think the stage is where you really blossom. So I wanted to ask you about your first moment on the national stage, when you sang “Accept What God Allows” at the Apollo at the age of 11. What was going through your mind then? Did you already know you wanted to be a professional singer?
I can truly say I was fearless when I was a kid. I had been singing in church so much by the time that I got to the Apollo that it was almost just like singing at a bigger church. Singing was definitely something I knew I wanted to do early on, but at that time I wasn’t even writing. I didn’t know I had that gift yet. But singing was always a big part of my life. Just like you, I was shocked I had this phobia of performing live. I really never thought that would happen to me.
Were you approached by gospel labels after Apollo? When did you decide to go secular?
At the time that I chose to sing R&B, I was actually getting ready to sign to a gospel label, and my mom had asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this, and I said, you know, I don’t think I do. It’s funny, because it wasn’t like I was writing or even going through anything at the time, but I felt like God was revealing to me that there was more in me than singing gospel music, and that I could possibly reach more people.
I’m curious how exposed you were to jazz at an early age, because if you go back and look at some of your old performances, particularly at the Black Lily in Philadelphia, the jazz influence is quite pronounced.
You know what’s crazy—I didn’t listen to any jazz growing up…
What? You’re one of the only mainstream R&B singers today who can scat. Read more