Blues artist Janiva Magness accesses pain to create beauty


Janiva Magness knows the blues. The Detroit native and award-winning singer-songwriter grew up an orphan after the suicides of both her parents while she was just a pre-teen. In the foster care system she lived in and out of 12 different homes, and was sometimes homeless.  At 17 she became pregnant and gave her daughter up for adoption.

In the midst of a miserable existence, Magness was able to find refuge in music. Her salvation came when she snuck into a club in Minneapolis and witnessed a transformative performance by blues legend Otis Rush.

“Otis played as if his life depended on it,” Magness recalled in an interview. “There was a completely desperate, absolute intensity. I knew, whatever it was, I needed more of it.”

That experience helped Magness tap into her own magic. She got her start as a background singer after being recruited for vocals at the recording studio she interned at. In the early 1980s Magness found a mentor with the musical director for the iconic Sam Cooke, Bob Tate. In 1985 she formed her first band, Janiva Magness And The Mojomatics. Magness garnered local success and then took off to Los Angeles and began releasing albums independently. It wasn’t until she signed with Northern Blues Music where she got her first Billboard hit in 2006 with “Do I Move You?”

In 2008 Magness signed with Alligator Records and released What Love Will Do, The Devil is an Angel Too, and Stronger For it, receiving critical acclaim and many awards. She started her own label Fathead Records and began recording original songs in 2014. With each succeeding album, she reaches new heights and attracts a wider audience. Her compelling and flexible voice accesses pain and sass in a raw way that touches the soul of listeners.

“We need real music now more than ever because it gives us strength to pull through tough times,”Magness said. “We need it in a real bad way. Blues is a ray of hope. It articulates what’s lacking in people’s lives.”

Perhaps it is her live performances that makes her so remarkable. She is so well known for her spellbinding and cathartic live shows that she became the second woman ever to receive the Blues Foundation’s highly coveted B.B King Entertainer of the Year Award, presented by B.B King himself in 2009.

With a career spanning three decades, 12 albums, and over 150 club performances a year Magness has solidified herself as a premiere blues artist, and today at the age of 60 continues to move people all over the world.

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