If you try to compile a list of African American female folk singers, only a handful of names would likely come to mind: Tracy Chapman, Nina Simone, and maybe Elizabeth Cotten if you’re a music buff.
The list is even shorter when considering artists of today.
Enter Sye Elaine Spence, a 29-year-old New York City native who began cultivating her folk sound after relocating to Atlanta.
“I think it’s actually been very rewarding for me to represent something that is different, that is unique for a black woman to do,” she said. “I’ve been on this kick to kind of show that we can do all types of beautiful things. I think that’s a part of my motivation to kind of continue in a path that hasn’t been paved before.”
Like most folk singers storytelling is her focus. Her rich vocals are peppered with a bit of melancholy, charm, and effortless soul as she paces each phrase with pure emotion.
“For me I do see it as folk music but folk music is essentially the music of the people and my stories are really essentially things that I’ve been through and kind of reminiscent of the human condition in general,” she said. “So for me when I say folk music it’s really more than just a sound. It’s really the soul of where I’m coming from as a storyteller.”
On Long Live The Summertime, the closing track on BLOOM, her debut EP, Spence transports listeners to a beautiful summer day in Georgia, where, suddenly sweet tea, crickets, swinging screen doors, and ice cream cones become tangible.
On Repeat, her latest tune, Spence offers up a mix of chaos and calm as she emotes above the swift strumming of an acoustic guitar.
“Repeat started off as a poem I wrote in memory of my stepfather who passed away in 2012 and it’s the first time that I’ve ever experienced a loss of someone so suddenly especially someone so close to me,” she explained. “I presented the lyrics to Michael [Osowski]. We got together and what I remember explaining to him is that I wanted it to feel like chaos that transcended into something beautiful. Essentially that’s how I viewed the loss and then coming to peace with the person and the memories and playing those on repeat.”
The video for the track is the perfect compliment—no story line, just an embodiment of grief and loss by the film’s sole character played by actress, Chayna Douglas. Evan Brown of Dreambear Productions seemed destined to direct it after losing his sister just a few months before discussing the meaning of song with Spence.
“It was really kind of like this surreal moment where we realized that we wanted to do this piece of work and it was kind of something bigger than us,” said Spence who is now embarking on the next step in her musical journey. She recently completed the writing for upcoming project which she plans to begin recording soon. But there’s no rush, she says. She prefers to take her with her music as she continues to push the envelope.
Purchase music by Sye Elaine Spence on itunes.