When you think of Detroit-born superstar female musicians, your mind typically goes to Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Diana Ross and others. Motown was a major player in making female-fronted groups into superstars. Detroit has spawned some major talent over the years, many of them women. And now there is a fresh crop of ladies stepping out of the shadows in the Motor City – a brand new generation of Detroit divas, if you will. Their talent and gender are the only things that set these young women in the same category as the all-time greats, however. They don't share a penchant for pretentiousness or pompous behavior, and that is a breath of fresh air for metro Detroit.
Paulina Jayne is a 16-year old up-and-coming country phenom with a voice of gold, who started her musical career a decade ago on the piano. Because her mom is a pianist, music has always been present in her life. "I guess you could say that music was just part of our household," says Jayne, "and my parents really encouraged me. When I said I wanted to play guitar, my parents got me a miniature six-string. I love instruments and all kinds of music."
With a couple of years still left in high school, the future is wide-open for Jayne, although she already has big plans. "I want to play my Hummingbird guitar every day of my life, sing as sweet as Herschel Boone, hang out with my friends and family, and write songs as cool and successful as Bonnie Baker." High hopes indeed, but there's something to be said for having your head in the clouds with your feet firmly on the ground.
One common characteristic that many successful adult musicians share is the fact that many of them were surrounded by music as a child. That's something that Paulina Jayne certainly has in common with Alyssa Simmons. A soulful songwriter who sounds like she quite literally has Motown in her veins, Simmons also happens to have spent a good portion of her childhood around music. "My dad was a drummer and played in a local cover band," she explains. "I was lucky to grow up in a house that appreciated all styles of music, and I feel that's what made me such a versatile artist."
Having recently spent time in the studio with her band, Alyssa Simmons & The Vibes, Simmons sees success on the horizon, but most certainly understands her tie to the Motor City and its storied musical past. "Detroit is where it's at," she says, "so many influential artists have come from this town. Once you start looking at the list of talented women, it becomes very surreal. I love learning their stories on how they made it and the songs that kept them there. To say I am part of that community is a little strange to me. I know I want to be part of that community, but they are legends and I'm still working at catching my big break."
Working towards a big break is something that Simmons also shares with Jennifer Westwood, the northern rock gal with the right amount of country twang and soul to appeal to a wide variety of music fans. Like her fellow, aforementioned friends, she grew up surrounded by music. Singing in church (which would obviously explain the amount of soul bottled up within her songs) taught her not only a sense of musicianship, but also how to stay cool singing in front of a crowd. And hard work isn't foreign to Westwood, either. She sees it in her Detroit contemporaries, as well as musicians of the past. "It's an honor to be a part of the current Detroit music scene," she explains. "Motown-era artists are in another category altogether; role models and examples of what work and dedication can get you and what it can do for a whole city. Time will tell what Detroit music history remembers."
Hometown pride is a common thread throughout local solo musicians and bands, particularly in Detroit. Christina Chriss certainly shares that appreciation. The frontwoman of Kaleido, a Detroit four-piece that looks punk, acts rock and sounds like just the right amount of pop, Chriss shares a love of Detroit with her contemporaries. "It feels incredible and I'm proud to say I came up in Detroit," she says. "I have a real love for the this city and the people here. It is such an important part of who I am, as a person and as a musician. Being raised in metro Detroit has made me tough and ambitious, and that really reflects in my music. I love Detroit!"
Also spending time in the studio, Kaleido will be recording this month and sharing a stage on 2/18 with Jayne, Simmons and Westwood. The four strong-willed and extremely talented musicians will be performing individual sets as part of the Rock the Runway Appreciation Party at the Emerald Theatre in Mt. Clemens. And while each young lady showcases a different personality, musical style and plan for the future (with the exception of fame – they're all hellbent on achieving success), they do happen to each have the same respect, admiration and grace that their predecessors, the original Detroit divas, had. They just don't bring the same over-privileged sense of entitlement, and in today's world, that alone is something worth rooting for. | RDW
The Rock the Runway Appreciation Party • 2/18, 8 p.m. • 31 N. Walnut St., Mt. Clemens • embarcoentertainment.com • $10