Alana Davis, on Saturday July 28th will be making her debut at Lefty’s Live Music in Des Moines, joined by guitarist Ken Valdez.
Alana Davis– When Alana Davis was a little girl, she found her key to happiness in a roundabout way. She’d go to the principal’s office in school to call her mom and tell her she was having a bad day. Upon returning home, her mother – a former jazz singer and single mom – would have her favorite song, Stevie Wonder’s “As” from “Songs in the Key of Life” playing and it would instantly transform Alana’s sadness to happiness. She soon learned to fake her bad school days in order to have that magical musical moment of bliss greet her upon coming home from school.
“That song was a healer for me and a game-changer. I learned really young how profoundly I connected to music and how music can really, on a deep level, transform your emotions, feelings,” explains the singer/songwriter. “In the past few years, I lost sight of that for a bit. I became a mom and my focus was there. But now with my child, who is four, I’m seeing myself in her and I’m being reminded of who I am as an artist, and how I want my music to touch people the way that Stevie Wonder touched me as a little girl.”
Alana’s newfound motherhood might have initially put the Grammy Award- nominated artist on the sidelines for a bit, but it’s also what has given her the fuel and inspiration to move forward. “Honestly, after having a natural childbirth, it makes me feel like I can do anything. It gave me a newfound sense of strength and power and an internal toughness I think I needed. That really translates into who I am and what my music is about. More than my need to express myself through music, there is a need to be a good example for my daughter to not give up and follow your heart and what is truly in your soul. Music is truly in my heart and soul,” says the New York-born artist.
Music isn’t just in her heart and soul it’s in her DNA as well. Alana’s mother is Anna Scholfield, a noted jazz vocalist whose 1963 Atlantic Records release, “Anamari,” was produced by the legendary Nesuhi Ertegun and featured jazz greats Art farmer, Grady Tate, Jim Hall and Clark Terry. And, her father is acclaimed jazz pianist Walter Davis Jr. who played with Charlie Parker, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie and whose albums “Davis Cup” and “In Walked Thelonius” are considered jazz classics.
Raised by her mother in a humble West Village apartment amidst a backdrop of bebop, Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole, Alana would learn to harmonize at a young age as her musical mom would sing songs like, “You Are My Sunshine,” with her on the way to the school bus. Alana would soon gravitate to the burgeoning underground punk and reggae scene at the time, and cite bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bad Brains amongst her favorites. She’d later dabble in the likes of Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday and discover her instrument of choice, the guitar, at age 16.
Though music ran through her veins, Alana was always a bit too shy to perform and was discouraged by an unsupportive teacher at La Guardia School of Performing Arts (the “Fame” school that gave her a scholarship at age 13). She found her voice, and her calling, one fateful night when a friend made her get up onstage at Finnian’s Rainbow on St. Mark’s and sang a Janis Joplin song. “For the first time, I wasn’t shy. People clapped. This was the beginning of thinking, well, maybe I can do this,” recalls Alana.
Her big break came, as she says, a “total fluke and happy accident.” She explains, “A friend gave a recording of mine to an A&R guy at Elektra Records. At the time, I never would’ve thought I would even try to get a deal and they heard just one song, not even one of my own, and soon signed me. It was surreal. I don’t think I was ready, but it was happening.”
That “happy accident” turned into her Elektra Records debut CD, “Blame It on Me,” which contained the hits “32 Flavors,” which peaked at No. 37 Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, “Crazy,” a No. 17 hit on Adult Top 40, and “Murder,” which was sampled on Jay-Z’s own “Murder” on his CD, “Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter.” “Blame It on Me,” which peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart, was also nominated for a Grammy award and cited by Time magazine as one of the Top 5 albums of 1997.
What followed were two more critically acclaimed albums that had everyone calling Alana a true “singer’s singer” – 2001’s “Fortune Cookies” on Elektra, which peaked at No. 34 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and featured production by Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, and 2005’s “Surrender Dorothy” on her own independent label, Tigress Records. The critical success of these albums landed her on every major TV outlet (“Good Morning American,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” to name a few).
Alana also made a name for herself on the touring front, making history as being the only female artist on the H.O.R.D.E tour in 1998, alongside Blues Traveler, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Harper and others. She was also part of the iconic Lilith Fair tour in 1997 with Sarah McLachlan, Emmylou Harris, Jewel, Fiona Apple and other great female artists of the time. Over the years, the singer-songwriter has toured with or opened for Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Ziggy Marley, Indigo Girls, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Steel Pulse, Jethro Tull, Steve Winwood and many more.
Also of note, her 2003 single, a cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Carry On,” was featured in a Sony Electronics Super Bowl commercial and had Billboard raving that the “wildly spirited and emotionally charged” track made Alana “poised to have the biggest hit of her career.”
“It’s been such a journey. I paid some dues along the way. I’ve gone through some stuff. I now have more to write about because I’ve been rejected, I’ve had the Grammy nomination and the accolades and then I’ve had the record deal and then didn’t. I kind of did it backwards. I got my first deal in an accidentally way and then I paid my dues. Today, I’m coming at it from a different place. At one point I wondered if it’s worth it because it’s so damn hard but somewhere along the way I decided I would do music because I love it. It’s as simple as that,” she says.
Alana is currently writing new songs for what will be her fourth album. “The new material that I’m working on is a bit simpler, really stripped down. I think I used to cerebrallize a lot of things and play the hardest chords I could just because they turned me on. But now, it’s more about how the song feels to me. Even though I haven’t toured in a while, music was always there for me. It’s the closest thing I have to a guru and I feel blessed to be able to communicate in this language,” she adds.