Blues, Soul, Swing, Jazz… Yep, she does it all! Between international tours and winning 2017’s “Best Blues Artist” at the San Diego Music Awards, Whitney Shay has us planning months ahead to coordinate with her packed schedule. There is no question that she is a consummate professional who brings so much more to the stage than just an amazingly powerful and unique voice – Apparently, that is what happens when your career starts off at the age of 3! Her knowledge and appreciation of music is as undeniable as the genuine soul that comes with each of her performances. Whitney is recognized in the San Diego community as one of the best in town and has a loyal following of peers who admire and respect both her music and the person she is. She shows up (early) to every gig with a smile, always quick with a laugh, and completely owns whatever stage she sets foot on. If you enjoy live music and have not heard Whitney Shay… sounds like you need to plan for an evening out. This month, we invite you to learn a little about someone we love a lot!
Prince or Michael Jackson?
Hmm…that’s a tough one since they both had such prolific careers, but I think I’ll have to go with Prince! I participated in a couple different Prince Tribute shows the last year and it really got me digging into some of his lesser known material and then I really fell in love. Not only was the man an incredible performer/singer/songwriter but he could play a mean guitar!
Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles?
Yikes, a tough one again! As much as I love the legendary Stevie Wonder, it’s Ray Charles for me all day every day. That man just hits right to my core whenever I hear his voice. His version of “You Don’t Know Me” is one of my favorite songs of all time.
Tupac or Biggie?
I feel like I don’t know enough of either of their music, but I’ll give Tupac the slight edge since I remember singing “California Love” when I was growing up.
Paul McCartney or John Lennon?
I wasn’t really raised on the music of the Beatles so I feel like many diehard Beatles fans might fight me on this, but John Lennon for me simply because of “Imagine” and his advocacy.
Etta James or Billie Holiday?
Etta James is my all time favorite singer. I feel like a lot of people don’t look beyond “At Last”, but trust me, if you start digging the woman sang every style and had an incredible career/story! I love her because everything she sang was 110% Etta. You never doubted her conviction. She could sing almost any style and make it her own- whether it’s a low down dirty blues, a heartfelt jazz standard, or some hard hitting high energy R&B. My favorite thing I’ve ever heard about her was someone describing the “honesty of Etta James” and that has really stuck with me ever since. I strive to be as honest and real as she was with my singing (and in my life).
Name 3 musicians/groups that you will listen to for the rest of your life:
Ok I can’t narrow it down to 3 so I’ll give you 5 haha. I would say Donny Hathaway, Etta James, Eva Cassidy, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke.
Who were you listening to before sitting down to answer all these questions?
A great soul singer my friend hipped me to named Howard Tate. I can’t get enough of him lately.
What style would YOU call your music?
I like to say I love to sing “soulful music”. That’s an easy way for me to group all the styles I do: rhythm and blues, blues, jazz, swing, soul, and gospel.
How old were you when you started playing music and who got you going?
I started singing almost when I started talking, I did my first theatrical production at age 3. I did musical theatre growing up and majored in Theatre in college. I started gigging singing jazz and swing at swing dances in 2010 and the rest is history.
First song you ever wrote; What was it about? When is the last time you played it?!
I remember writing a few way back in High School, but I have no idea what they were about. Probably my idea of what heartbreak was at the time haha.
What do you remember about your first public performance?
I think my first foray into the gigging musician life was singing at a underground Speakeasy party at a warehouse in Barrio Logan. I remember being so excited and nervous about it. Now I’ve done so many gigs and feel like I’ve become pretty seasoned so it seems almost like I’m looking back at a different person.
Tell us about one of the best gigs you ever played:
The first show I ever did in Brazil; I played at the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival November 2015. I came out onto the stage in front of thousands of people in a country where I didn’t speak the language and the people warmly embraced me and really loved everything I did. That to me was a game changing moment I’ll cherish for a long time.
Tell us about one of the weirdest gigs you ever played:
I got hired to jump out of a birthday cake and sing “Happy Birthday” once. In reality I stepped out of a wooden “cake”, but you get the idea. Either that or the string of jazz corporate gigs I did at Asian Grocery Stores- singing next to the frozen food section while people shopped was pretty funny. The never boring life of a professional musician.
What are a couple of your most proud achievements as a musician?
Winning the San Diego Music Award this year for “Best Blues Artist” and having a lot of my peers coming up to me congratulating me saying “you deserve it” and “you worked your butt off.” Earning that respect from other musicians I look up to and admire really meant a lot to me. Also touring in South America; I’ve been four times now and every time I’m amazed at how receptive audiences in other countries are to American music.
Any local or up-and-coming musicians you love that more people need to know about?
Man, we have so much talent here in San Diego! I feel like I don’t have enough room to list all the people I love and respect. Two of the ones I wanted to mention you’ve already featured here on your spotlights: Jonny Tarr and Rebecca Jade. Jonny is insanely talented; the guy sings so well, plays guitar, sax, keys, and beat boxes! It’s almost unfair how good he is at everything. Rebecca Jade is an absolute doll and so very talented- diverse and soulful. I just love seeing the great things happening for her because she has worked hard and deserves all of her success. Also shout-outs to some of my other favorites (if I wasn’t working all the time I would go hear these people): Robin Henkel (I’m lucky and get to play with him all the time), Nathan James (an incredible musician who I credit with really getting me invested in the blues), Mariela Contreras (fantastic Latin and all around singer), Billy Watson (such a fun performer), Leonard Patton (the man can sing anything and KILL IT), Israel Maldonado (amazing talent- sings in 3 languages and kills on guitar), Allison Adams Tucker (lovely voice, also sings in 5 languages), Rhea Makiaris (one of my favorite singers in town- she rarely performs though so catch her solo when you can), Zzymzzy Quartet (great gypsy jazz and traditional swing music), and Archie Thompson (my longtime producer- he plays every almost instrument AND sings). That’s just scratching the surface for me.
Any advice to your younger self or other musicians starting out?
Show up on time, do your “homework”, be a nice person, and always be grateful. Those things will take you way further than being an egomaniac who’s insanely talented, but doesn’t play well with others. Music is not about just you- it’s about the conversation you are having with the other parties involved and your audience. Never forget that!