With the soul and sound of some of the greatest song birds of our time has launched her career, beginning on the east coast of the U.S. and now has planted herself in the very small cusp of successful singers and entertainment that Los Angeles will allow; only to such a few.
The Los Angeles Journal had the pleasure to interview Charis Reese before her first L.A. release party that was scheduled for July 13 at The Bourbon Room in Hollywood, California. Naturally, the LAJ was in attendance as well.
Charis Reese has seeked heights that have only been dreamt and have never transpired by many. Here’s what she had to say about her journey to the rise and a possible pinnacle of many in her career.
Growing up, how has music influenced you?
“I was born in Washington D.C. at Washington Hospital Center. Shout-out to North-West. I was in the NICU actually for weeks after I was born because the umbilical cord was wrapped so tightly around my neck that it was slated that I wasn’t going to be able to speak let alone be able to sing. So the fact that when I was out of the NICU and home I wasn’t really speaking anything that was audible but I heard a lot of music. My mom played the violin and piano and my dad was in a band as well. So I was around a lot of musical influences. I was saved through musical therapy unofficially that was how I was able to eventually start talking.
One day I was in the backseat of my mom’s car and this gospel song came up by Donnie McClurkin and I just started singing “Speak to my heart lord” and from that point my mama said, “Now wait a minute slim, when did this breakthrough happen?” Of course I didn’t know that there was an issue, I didn’t know that I wasn’t audible and speaking. Now If I look at the VHS tapes from back in the day I definitely, you know, it was given gibberish. But at the same time that was kinda of the inspiration, my mom was a big time gospel buff and my godfather was Donald Vails and he was who introduced me to the gospel industry. I recorded my first song with him when I was seven-years-old. So gospel music was my base, I was always at church. I was always around a lot of gospel artists.
As I got older …, I was diving deeper into gospel music so I was singing background music for Kirk Franklin Yolanda Adams, CeCe Winans, all the gamin of gospel artists I’ve sung with them at some capacity in my life. With that I then decided with myself I don’t think I just want to do gospel. When I went to Xavior [University] during Hurricane Katrina, I then decided, “Ok I don’t need to waste time, I need to focus on my passion because music is my passion.”
How old were you when you realized this?
“I was 13 when I realized I wanted to sing. When I realized that I wanted to make music my passion I was 18 or 19 years old. [Hurricane Katrina] Devastating experience that for me it was life or death and I felt that I wanted to live. I have survivor’s remorse really badly and I was like whatever I can contribute back to New Orleans, back to people. If it’s my voice that I can administer through to help people feel better, let me do that. I transferred to Drexel [University] where I got my bachelors in science, psychology and chemistry. I have my certificate in health science, English and philosophy. Then I went to get my masters in public health. During my first year at Drexel for my MPH, Raheem DeVaughn came to the campus, its a predominantly white institution, to see a person of color who is from the DMV to have a concert in Drexel was a big deal to me and major inspiration. I was there singing all the songs, you feel me, while singing one of the songs someone came up to me and said “Uhm don’t you … are you singing anywhere?” and I said, “In my shower,” that’s where I sing everyday. But in terms of singing outside, no I wasn’t doing that. I am still secretly nervous, I’m still shy to this day even though it doesn’t seem so. I think it’s one of those things where you’re stuck in one of those humble spaces looking at people up here and saying I don’t know if I will ever sing like them, I don’t know if I can do this.”
Do you think that it’s a secret thing, a safe place for you where you don’t want to let people in sometimes?
“I don’t mind letting people in, I think at that time I’m just dealing with narcissistic people around me. If you know anything about narcissism or gaslighting, there is a tendency for people to undercut or say that you are as good as you are and let people whisper in your ear. Sometimes singers can be very catty and cliquish and I was never the kind of person to be stuck in a clique. I had to find my support inwardly and in other places … Philly was a great place for me to grow. My mentor Denise King told me “Charis, you need to stop singing at all of these clubs and I need you to work on your own product. You singing and not having a product is a poor business model.” So she helped me early on to know the business of music. Outside the business component, it was honing my skills to get myself up on the stage and sing. So I went to the Philly live pod experience and I sang. There were people of relevance in the crowd that said, “Oh my god this girl can really sing.” I was flabbergasted because I didn’t think that I was anything.”
And this was what led up to you recording in 2015 of Ms. Jones?
“Yes, ‘Introducing Ms. Jones’ … I’m very proud of this album because I did it. I did it by myself. For me this album benchmarks a transition in my life. After I graduated in 2010, there were no jobs in Philly and I had to move back home. I started working in government jobs and I hated it. I then told myself, “I have to get back to my passion, there is no reason to not be doing my passion.” I dedicated this entire album to my grandmother and looking back at it now I am grateful that I took the leap because that helped me get certain songs on the radio like Sirius XM and iHeartRadio … Never despise small beginnings because you always collaborate with people who want to work with you. We all have aspirations with a greater significance no matter what kind of genre or field your passion is in but your peers are your best way to level up and that’s how we did that. I knew without a shadow of a doubt this was what I was supposed to do.”