Radiant in both personality and song, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jackie Venson’s feel-good sound is making a splash in her home state of Texas and beyond. Hailing from one of America’s great music cities, Austin, Venson’s guitar skills have become the stuff of legend. In 2019, only a few years after the release of her debut album, The Light In Me, she was named Best Guitarist at the Austin Music Awards, making her the first Black woman to ever earn the title. She is the daughter of Andrew Venson, a professional musician of forty years, and tells Australian Musician that her childhood proximity to a career musician helped her feel that music was a viable life path for her.
She attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she originally studied piano but eventually pivoted to guitar in the latter part of her education. Ever since, her guitar work has become one of the focal points of her sound, giving her soulful lyrics a gritty edge.
The internet’s democratization of music has resulted in an increasingly genre-less American sonic landscape, with many artists fusing opposite genres together and others doing away with the notion entirely. Venson is no stranger to this, with her earlier work combining sounds from disco, rock, gospel, psychedelia, and more. However, her latest full-length release, 2021’a Love Transcends, is largely a cut-and-dry blues album, with soaring electric guitar solos and lyrics that follow the genre’s tradition of lamenting personal and social hardship but maintaining an air of whole-hearted hope.
Of Love Transcends, Venson tells Guitar World, “It’s nice to kind of reel it in for a little bit of time. I can do a lot of different stuff, but I wanted to keep this album real traditional, so I didn’t bring in any of my wacky effects like I usually do. I kept it real simple – clean tone, distortion and reverb.”
For Venson, leaning into blues was more than just an aesthetic choice. She tells us, “When it comes to genre, my hope for the future is that we continue to see more diversity in the amplification of Black musicians in genres originally pioneered by Black musicians. Seeing groups like The Black Opry rise and gain prominence tells me we’re going in the right direction but there’s more work to be done and I’m excited for what lays ahead.”
But the sentiment behind these words is nothing new for her: “Throughout my career I’ve tried to speak up for what I believe in. I want to contribute to my community in positive ways and sometimes that means having a public dialogue about topics that could anger some. But to me, that’s how change comes, through hard work and hard conversations. I believe up and down my catalog there are songs that to speak to that spirit. I write from my heart both in my music and online.”
Like many American roots genres, blues emerged from African American communities, who used blues to capture the harsh reality of their experience as Black people in post Civil War America. While blues songs don’t generally top the charts these days, the genre has influenced popular genres like rock ’n roll, rap, jazz, and more.
Musicians like Venson carry the torch of this centuries-old genre into the 21st century, ensuring that the songs that laid the groundwork for so much of today’s music continue to be celebrated and utilized in the way its creators intended—as a powerful means of storytelling and an instigator for change. Beyond blues, Venson’s pure instrumental and lyrical talent make every tune she touches turn to gold, regardless of genre. To hear her guitar work and moving messages in action, grab a pass to Roots N Blues Festival, where she’ll play on Saturday, October 8th, at Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, MO. Get your pass here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/