Getting to Know Valerie June

Valerie June will be performing at The Cedar on April 24th. Learn more about this dynamic artist and her genre-defying sound below, and get tickets for her show here!

“organic moonshine roots”

Born in Jackson, Tennessee where blues, gospel, and Appalachian folk music converge, Valerie June has consistently been at a meeting point of different musical traditions. This is reflected in her sound, a brand of music June has termed “organic moonshine roots.”

June was exposed to gospel music at her local church, where she sang all through her childhood, and R&B and soul music via her father, Emerson Hockett who was a local promoter in Jackson.

At the age of 19 she took a chance and moved to Memphis. It was there that she began performing and recording.

She released her first album, Pushin’ Against a Stone, in 2011 in collaboration with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.  

strands of time

June’s most recent album, The Order of Time, is truly a testament to her essence. Time to June is not something that can be watched as it passes by. Instead, time is alive, it is emotional, it is spiritual.

Just like a person does. I think everything is living. If you didn’t notice, I’m totally emotional and everything has feelings.
— Valerie June

This is reflected strongly in her music. You feel the banjo, the guitar, the drums come alive in every song.


banjo

Though June’s musical talent is not limited to the banjo, this instrument plays a particular role in shaping her multi-genre sound. "People shouldn't necessarily think of bluegrass when they see the banjo," says June. "It was originally an African instrument, and people in America used to play all kinds of banjo: mandolin banjo, ukulele banjo, bass banjo, classical banjo, jazz banjo, there were even banjo orchestras. For some reason people like to limit it and say it just has to be in folk and bluegrass, but to me it can be in anything, and I really wanted to set the banjo free on this record."

The banjo is closely related to the akonting from the Senegambia region of Africa, and both share the same basic shape and a three-string sound. The banjo itself reflects the influences of African and Western music traditions, and includes both a signature high drone string and tuning pegs. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is one of the characteristic sounds of folk music in the United States, but as June said, it can be in anything, and is also a contributing sound in Irish traditional music and in jazz.

 

influence: bluegrass + blues

Just as June made the point to “set the banjo free,” it would be a disservice to June’s music to try and pin her in to any one category. Nevertheless, to further explore the influences and features of her music, let’s dive into bluegrass and blues -- two of the banjo-iest and most common genres that characterize June’s sound.

Bluegrass is associated above all with Appalachia, a region of the eastern United States that spreads from New York in the north to Alabama and Georgia in the south. Tied to the development of European settlements in the region, the music itself has its roots in traditional English, Irish, and Scottish ballads and dance tunes. Though fiddling and gaelic reels feature heavily, the genre also draws on African American traditions and sounds including blues, jazz, gospel.

Blues, as a contributing sound in bluegrass, is similarly an assemblage of African musical traditions, African-American work songs and spirituals, and the folk music of white Americans of European heritage. Just as in June’s music, blues music emphasizes narrative lyrics, heartfelt bass lines, and upbeat yet variable instrumentation. The genre emerged around the turn of the twentieth century, and is certainly tied to the emotions and upheavals of the American South in the post-Emancipation era.

June’s music escapes easy categorization because she draws on so many musical influences, but there is also a universal quality to her work that is undeniably shaped by this variety of inspiration and trans-global production.

Valerie June released her latest album The Order of Time in 2017, which dominated charts with singles “Astral Plane” and “Shakedown.”

Valerie June will be performing at The Cedar on April 24th. Learn more about this dynamic artist and her genre-defying sound below, and get tickets for her show here!