Contemporary Chattanooga-based musicians are breathing fresh life into the music scene, ensuring that the rich musical heritage of Chattanooga not only endures but continues to evolve and thrive. June is Black Music Month, so there is no better time to recognize and celebrate our African American artists. We have so many artists in Chattanooga, and this month we had a chance to catch up with some stand-out musicians who you should plan on checking out, whether you live here or are planning on a visit to Chattanooga!  

Janelle Drake: Elevating Community, Creativity, and Faith

Janelle Drake describes herself as “a multi-talented creative, educator, and community builder.” She is the driving force behind Make Music Day Chattanooga and has helped develop Chattanooga’s music community with events like Music Gives CHA and Chattanooga Songwriters Week. She is currently developing a studio space that can function as a hub for musicians in Chattanooga. But Janelle also makes music of her own.

Q: Describe yourself as a musician: 

Music was a gift that I stumbled upon and honestly one that I continue to discover. Creating music is deeply personal to me, and I hope that it resonates with those who listen to my work. I can't describe myself as an artist without mentioning my husband. Together, we create uplifting and inspiring music [which] connects with all and glorifies one! 

Q: Where can we find you? 

You can find me creating at Upper Room Studios, our recording studio in downtown Chattanooga. This is where I pour my heart into writing, recording, and producing music that tells a story and glorifies my faith....We're actually here now preparing to host a songwriting session with writers from across the state! 

Q: What part of Chattanooga inspires you creatively? 

I'll have to say the outdoors. In particular, I love the Walnut Street Bridge. Not only is the scenery beautiful with the river, greenery, and park, but I enjoy listening to music from other local artists. I love the area so much so that my husband and I recorded a music video there 

Q: What future do you envision for black music in Chattanooga? 

I envision a future where black music is not just celebrated but revered for its immense contributions. In recent years, I've been actively involved in efforts to broaden opportunities and resources for musicians. These endeavors are rooted in partnership and draw from Chattanooga's rich cultural heritage, which continues to leave an indelible imprint on our city's musical landscape. 

Karen Collins: A Soulful Visionary

Karen's musical journey began with her great-grandmother, Hattie Bell, a shape note singer from Rome, Georgia. This all but lost musical style was considered to be the defining style that influenced African American spirituals. With deep roots in gospel, jazz, and soul, Karen thrives on performing in plays and music pop-ups. Her passion for the arts flourished in productions like "Hello Dolly" and "The Wiz," at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. In 2019, she made her international debut in China with RISE Chattanooga. She hosts The Velvet Chair Experience every 4th Sunday at The Bessie Smith Cultural Center.  

Q: Describe yourself as a musician: 

I see the music that is in me as a precious gift from God, something that innately comes from deep within my soul. My musicality is birthed from a creative heart, with roots deeply imbedded in gospel, jazz, and soul sprinkled with a little country, funk and rock n roll! 

Q: Where can we find you? 

In various outside venues like Miller Park or at really cool places like the Barking Legs Theater or at Hunter Museum but currently, you can find me ... at The Bessie Smith Cultural Center and African American Museum performing with my friends at The Velvet Chair Experience. As it's founder and lead creative, I am so blessed to have the opportunity to work with such amazing people who literally give the show its flavor and feel. 

Q: Describe the Velvet Chair Experience:  

The Velvet Chair Experience is a fusion of Jazz and Uptown Soul featuring smooth and sultry vocals which serenade guests over great food and libations in an elegant and relaxed atmosphere! 

Q: What is different about the Chattanooga Music Scenes than other areas? 

Chattanooga's music scene is truly a melting pot of possibilities and opportunities for musicians at any and every level to exercise their craft from hobbyist to professionals and everything in between!!!  

Q: What future do you envision for black music in Chattanooga? 

I envision a place where black music, which is the foundation of the vast majority of the genres that we know today, is truly elevated and celebrated not just added on as a "special night" of ethnic music during a particular festival or event. 

I want to see a rebirth of a kind of music row that encapsulates the elegance and intimate charm of purposed musical spaces intended to draw people into those spaces to enjoy the lyrical content of music again. 

Cuatro Cinco: Glossy Sound

Cuatro Cinco has been writing music for years in Chattanooga and is fully embraced by the local community.  His philosophy focuses on “Gloss,” meaning the cultivation of a purposely positive aura, which is something he creates visually and lyrically. His vlogs and social posts showcase his genuine personality and commitment to engaging with joy and positivity. His music will make you move! 

Q: Describe yourself as a musician: 

. I'm an artist that has no boundaries for what is art with a sound that is attractive or what I call "Glossy." I create from pure manifestation & positive energy.  

Q: Where can we find you? 

Lately, my 2nd home has been Wavelength Studios.

Q: What is your favorite place in Chattanooga to experience live music?  

Growing up Riverbend was definitely my favorite place to listen to live music but as I've gotten older Nightfall has become my new favorite. 

Q: What part of Chattanooga inspires you creatively? 

The all-around growth of Chattanooga really inspires me, to be connected musically for so many years I feel like I've had a front row seat to what the future holds for our music scene & city as a whole! Aside from outside of my home my family truly motivates me to be the best version of myself. 

Q: What future do you envision for black music in Chattanooga? 

I envision unity & new opportunities. Being more bold about our art, protecting it, & continuing to open doors for the future of what black chattanooga music looks & sounds like.   

Q: What is different about the Chattanooga Music Scenes than other areas? 

Chattanooga's music scene is much different from other areas due to the fact that we are still in the process of creating a "Chattanooga Sound ''....  there's sort of a melting pot situation going on... There's no boundary or expectations for a Chattanooga sound, which gives artists more of an opportunity to create original art. 

Zowie Boyd: Neo Soul Singer-Songwriter 

Chattanooga-based musician Zowie Boyd is an eclectic combination of jazz, blues, and soul. Her robust, arresting voice stands out brilliantly in her music, so it is easy to see her connection to Etta James, who she lists as a major musical influence.  

Q: What is your favorite place in Chattanooga to experience live music?  

Songbirds, random jams around town, Rise Chattanooga, and any of the festivals they have downtown. 
 

Q: What part of Chattanooga inspires you creatively? 

The Tennessee River. It’s hard to not be inspired by the beautiful scenery of the water, trees, and mountains 

Q: What future do you envision for black music in Chattanooga? 

More diversity. I would love to see black people as a whole embarking in all genres of music because there is something to learn in every single one of them. The more well versed the better. 

C-Grimey: Boosting Local Signals

Local "C-Grimey" Williams works hard to elevate new local artists and promote equity through his non-profit work. For his music, he draws inspiration from neighborhoods of Chattanooga. In addition to making his own music, he is a producer, promoter and founder of Goldfinger Production$ in Chattanooga. He often emcees competitions at Wanderlinger Brewing Co. [ link : https://www.wanderlinger.com/events] to expose local artists to new audiences. 

Q: What is your favorite place in Chattanooga to experience live music?  

I love Wanderlinger, Glass St events, Moes, Humidor Chattanooga, JJs Bohemia, Boneyard, The Dream, and anywhere a good underground show is happening. 

Q: What future do you envision for black music in Chattanooga? 

I envision Chatt becoming a major incubator of national and global talent that represents black excellence at its finest. As well as events like the Chattanooga Hip Hop Summit  becoming highly revered events in the music industry. 

Q: What is different about the Chattanooga Music Scenes than other areas? 

Our music scene has the ability to grow in a healthy way and stay diverse and inclusive. 

Kofi Mawuko: International Gem

Christian Kofi Mawuko is a native of Ghana, West Africa. He began learning traditional rhythms on various Ghanaian drums at the age of 10. Kofi toured internationally in the 1970s and 1980s with the Kyirem Cultural Troupe as a lead dancer, singer, and master drummer. In the late 1980s, he settled in London, where he taught music and dance, composed songs, and wrote plays for local theater groups. His works were featured in major cultural events like the Pan-Africa Historical Theatre Festival and the first Africa Emancipation Day Celebration in Accra, Ghana. 

Kofi relocated to the United States in 1998 and has performed across the country, either solo, as a percussionist with various musicians, or with his World Music band, OGYA. He moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1999, and promotes African culture through dance, music, arts and crafts, storytelling, and theatrical productions. He also collaborated with organizations around the Southeast to further promote the arts.   

Q: Where can we find you making music: 

OGYA WORL MUSIC BAND performs music in Chattanooga and the surrounding areas 

You can also find him at festivals, including the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, the Kuumba Festival (Knoxville TN), ValleyFest (Sequatchie, TN), and Bonnaroo.  

Q: What is your favorite place to experience live music? 

My favorite places to experience live music are Bessie Smith’s Big 9 Festival, Nightfall, Riverfront Nights, [and] Barking Legs Theater. 

Q: What part of Chattanooga inspires you creatively? 

The parts of Chattanooga that inspire me creatively [are] Downtown Riverfront, Coolidge Park, The Bluff View Art District, Hunter Museum of American Art, Bessie Smith Culture Center, Creative Discovery Museum, and Eastlake Park.

Summer Tours 

Chattanooga also has players on the national stage, and this summer they are touring across the country. 

ON TOUR: Amythyst Kiah 

Currently touring with Iron and Wine for the rest of the summer, this queer American songwriter, banjo player, and powerhouse of a vocalist describes her style as "Southern Gothic" - a haunting, bluesy Americana. Amythyst Kiah's journey as a musician is marked by collaboration and self-discovery. Her path led to significant career milestones, including participating in the supergroup Our Native Daughters, a group that focused on a musical mission to recover the musical agency of enslaved people and their descendants with musical vignettes, released through Smithsonian Folkway. She has earned a Grammy nomination for "Black Myself," and released an acclaimed and personal album, "Wary and Strange."  

ON TOUR: Isaiah Rashad  

This Chattanooga born hip-hop artist is headlining a tour this summer in celebration of a decade of musical development since the release of his first album, Cilvia Demo, after signing with Top Dawg Entertainment in 2014. Though he has moved on to L.A. and experienced considerable success, he has not forgotten Chattanooga, a place he has said is “too big to be a town and too small to be a city,” which is featured in his music and music videos. His newest release, “Hot Spot,” in collaboration with the prolific lyricist Mez (a North Carolina native), came out March of 2024. 

ON TOUR: Usher 

The Chattanooga-born singer, who just finished his two-year “My Way: The Las Vegas Residency,” is gearing up for a 24-city ‘Past Present Future’ tour that kicks off on August 20 in Washington, DC. Along the way, he'll hit spots like Brooklyn, Miami, Atlanta, and, excitingly, he'll be the first to perform at Los Angeles' new Intuit Dome. 

Internationally renowned, Usher is still celebrated in his hometown. Recently, the City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County, UTC, and Chattanooga Business Elite hosted a community celebration of artist Usher Raymond IV, where Mayor Tim Kelly presented him with the keys to his birthplace of Chattanooga. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center [ link : https://www.bessiesmithcc.org/] has recently expanded their section on Usher. When you visit, you can view exhibits featuring his costume pieces, including his famed roller skates from Super Bowl LVIII. Dazey Skate Co. [ link : https://www.instagram.com/dazeyskateco] , a traveling roller disco, will host an Usher themed skate night on July 11 at their Skate Station in the Choo Choo Complex,