The beauty of music is that, for a few minutes, you’re included in someone else’s story. You feel the artist’s joy and pain, even if you’ve never met. Music awakens emotions long hidden away, transporting you across county lines and oceans and sublime realms that exist only in your imagination.
And that feeling can stay with you long after hearing a song or seeing a performance. For singer and songwriter Jazmine Sullivan, watching at an early age as her mother performed in the church choir opened her eyes to the possibilities music can create.
“I would just look at her and just be amazed, just seeing what the voice and the message did for everyone,” Jazmine recounts.
Jazmine followed in her mother’s footsteps, and then some. She started out singing at church as a vibrant six-year-old with a “big voice,” and then moved on to performing at historic venues and at the request of industry titans at their own private events.
After securing a record deal when she was just a teenager, Jazmine distinguished herself through a commitment to the integrity of her sound and image, combining powerful vocals and a graceful stage presence. With her dynamic vocals, strong songwriting and relatable personality, she was the real deal.
“Music, it can build you up…. Whatever you’re going through, you feel like you’re connected with someone else.”
But four years ago, after two albums and five major award nominations, Jazmine retired from music because making it just wasn’t fun for her anymore. She had lost touch with her message, the meaning behind her music, and had to take a step back. That could have been the end of her story as an artist if music weren’t intrinsically linked to who Jazmine is as a person. It therefore came as no surprise to her fans when she resurfaced from retirement with the release of her critically acclaimed 2015 album. In taking some time away, Jazmine had rediscovered the power of music and uncovered a new story she had to tell.
“I was just sitting there [at my piano] and the idea just came,” Jazmine says. “The idea starts so small… and then it just grows and grows. It is really like magic.”
We spoke with Jazmine just after her appearance at Essence Black Women in Music, an annual red-carpet event honoring prominent women in the industry and the talents of an often-overlooked group.
“[Essence Black Women In Music] shows what we do and what we offer. It gives us the opportunities that we don’t often get,” Jazmine says. “I’m proud to be a woman in music and doing my own thing, and having control over how I want my music to sound.”
And if there’s any artist who understands the importance of creative control, it’s Jazmine Sullivan. Every song she makes has her indelible mark on it. And because of her personal lyrics and how involved she is with the arrangement of her songs, listening to her music gives you a snapshot of her growth as an artist and as a person. It’s clear that she’s committed to constantly honing her craft and evolving as an artist. And you can hear it in her latest album, which has earned her one major music award and three additional nominations.
“I just constantly want to push myself to try new things, so it doesn’t get boring or stagnant for me,” Jazmine explains. “That is interesting for me, to find and do different things and try to be better.”
Hearing her speak, it’s evident that she’s returned from her hiatus reinvigorated — and that she plans on staying in this industry by doing what she’s always done: being herself.
“When you keep it real, when you make music with substance, and you’re not trying to do the latest trendy thing and be hot like that, you just last longer in music,” Jazmine says. “And that’s what I care about: respect and just being here for a long time, and not necessarily trying to do the latest hot thing.”
It’s easy to envision Jazmine having a career that spans decades, thanks to the combination of her songwriting, voice and sound. She’s the complete package. Her lyrics infuse pop culture commentary with the universal themes of love and heartbreak. And her booming, yet dynamic voice is complemented by modern productions that also reference vintage sounds, culminating in songs that transcend categorization.
But musicality aside, what matters to Jazmine is that her fans are able to relate to her music on a personal level.
“Music, it can build you up. It can make you happy. It connects you to whoever it is that’s making it. You feel like you’re not alone. Whatever you’re going through, you feel like you’re connected with someone else,” Jazmine says. “I think that’s what we all want to feel.”
In that sense, music is an intimate conversation between creator and listener — a simple reminder of our shared humanity.
On that, we can all agree.