JJ Thames Billboard Biography

April 7, 2014 • No Comments • JJ ThamesPress

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“Mixing R&B, funk, Motown, and soul with strong blues and gospel vocals, and tossing in ska and reggae rhythms for occasional seasoning, JJ Thames has a powerful stage presence, and more than enough talent to back it up as a songwriter and as a performer. Her story reads like a classic Hollywood biopic, full of early joys, tragic losses, and a seemingly predestined turn to music as a career. Thames (pronounced “Timms”) was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, where she showed musical ability early in childhood, and with her parents’ blue-collar support, grew up singing and studying music, specifically piano and classical and jazz vocal technique. She first took the stage and began performing when she was nine, and by the time she was 17, Thames had developed into a blues shouter and prodigy who could command and set fire to any stage she took in true chanteuse fashion. Then life intervened. At 17, she gave birth to the first of her three sons, and moved with him to Mississippi to study business and marketing at Mississippi College. Settling in Jackson, Thames worked on the regional club circuit with stars like Marvin Sease and others, holding her own and learning how to build and expand an audience. In 2004 she gave birth to her second son, who tragically died from a rare strain of lymphoma just days from his second birthday. This huge emotional blow set the compass pointing back north, and Thames returned to Detroit. Singing was about the only thing that lifted her out of her despair, and she became determined to follow her dream of being a professional performer and musician. Thames landed a headlining gig at Lola’s, a local nightclub, and played there every Friday night for a year-and-a-half, honing her stage presence while building an audience and fan base. Encouraged, in 2008 she moved to New York City, hoping to repeat her success. New York can humble anybody, and she ended up singing in the subway for change and tips. Street performance, though, also taught her how to hold an audience with just her voice, and the value of musical diversity. She learned how to take various alternative rock songs and make them her own, expanding her options on-stage. But this was New York, and she had, with the birth of her third son in 2010, two young children to take care of, so music had to take a back seat again. Thames worked for a time as an assistant manager at a restaurant, and began juggling multiple jobs, gradually working performing back into her schedule. In 2012, unable to pay even the weekly rent in an extended-stay hotel, Thames and her two sons ended up in a homeless shelter for a month. While there, Thames wrote what would become her early signature song, “Tell You What I Know.” Her life seemed to be at its bottom rung, but along the way she had shared stages with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Peggy Scott Adams, Willie Clayton, Denise LaSalle, and others, and had branched out to sing background vocals for ska, reggae and reggae rock bands Outlaw Nation, Fishbone, Israel Vibrations, Bad Brains and others, developing a fully formed, diverse and powerful stage presence. Meanwhile, though, she was in a homeless shelter. Family and friends stepped in, and Thames and her two boys moved once again to Mississippi, where her luck finally changed. Signing with Dechamp Records in 2013, she recorded a debut album with producers Grady Champion and Carole DeAngelis. The completed Tell You What I Know album was released to early critical acclaim in the spring of 2014.”
–Steve Leggett, Rovi
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