Born and raised in Jackson, Miss., R&B artist Akami Graham (unofficially named “Jackson’s Princess of R&B”) has earned the reputation of being a performer who has the ability to captivate an audience with her soft, but powerful soprano voice.
Realizing her love for music at an early age, Akami started her music career singing, while playing her own accompaniment on the piano for family and friends. Her first professional performance was at the age of six. Those who watched her play the piano and sing with the skill and grace of a seasoned veteran, knew they were watching a star in the making. Akami continued to develop her talent as a vocalist and performing artist, by singing in church and for events at her junior high/high school. In 1999, she was named the Omega Psi Phi Youth Talent winner. Over time, Akami’s passion for music began to grow, she realized that “music was a ‘love’ that didn’t require her to give anything, it just required her to love it back.”
An electric performer, Akami’s sound is a diverse mix of R&B, gospel, and neo-soul. She cites Jill Scott, Fantasia, Chrisette Michelle, Lisa McClendon and the late Whitney Houston as the team of women who have inspired her style of music. Taking the Jackson, Miss. music scene by storm in the early ‘00s, Akami’s dynamic performances continue to mesmerize those in attendance. Her ability to effortlessly sing songs with precision, clarity and pitch has made her a local favorite, with an increased following of loyal fans.
Akami has earned great respect of many prominent people in the music industry, giving her the opportunity to open for artists such as Jaguar Wright, Musiq Soulchild, Chrisette Michele, and Blues legend B.B. King. Akami has also performed background vocals for Compozitionz, Willie Clayton, and Kenny Wayne.
Recognized for her unquestionable talents, Akami has won several awards including: Jackson Music Awards Nominee for Best Female Vocalist (2003-2006); American Idol Semi-Finalist (2005), Nightlife’s R&B Artist of the Year & Best Singer in Jackson Free Press (2007-2011); and most notably the Jackson Music Awards for Best Female Vocalist (2010).
Although she is best known for performing cover tunes, Akami is starting to branch out and create music of her own. With the help of several talented song writers and producers, she is aiming to deliver an album with songs that will electrify listeners as they take the journey inside of her love affair with music.
With the holidays coming at us like a freight train, I’m reflecting on all the things I’m thankful for in 2010.
Besides my awesome unit of family and friends, I’m thankful for the intriguing people I’ve met this year at different gigs in the state, on Facebook or hosting Singers/Songwriters Night at Hal and Mal’s.
A year ago at Thanksgiving, Clinton Kirby and I had our first practice together as a duo. Since then I’ve had the chance to sing with him and Buffalo Nickel band-mate Steve Deaton, as well as perform with them at Ole Tavern two weeks ago. (It was epic. Thanks, guys!) I’ve taken poor Clinton on a begrudgingly long field trip of my old haunts and stomping grounds in southwest Mississippi to play at different venues, and he’s never complained.
I’m so thankful I’m having the chance to sing with such a fabulous musician whose family has pretty much become my extended one.
Last but not least, I’m thankful for the opportunity to work for the Jackson Free Press and for the grand opportunity to represent the music scene here in the city I call home. Thank you, Jackson, for being patient with me as I’m still learning the ropes of being a music journalist, your understanding when I was booked up already at Singers/Songwriters Night, for letting me perform for you, and for trying to make our city’s music scene a force to reckon with.
Wednesday night, Nov. 24, Mississippi’s own Eddie Cotton performs at Underground 119, and The Quills and Josh Hailey’s Tom Petty Tribute show takes over Hal & Mal’s Red Room. For those of you who missed the show in September, it was electrifying and fun as all get out. Go.
On Turkey Day, I hope you enjoy the holidays with your family, but please make room for musical dessert when Jason Turner plays at Fenian’s. And check out Jason’s most recent CD, “11 Years.” I’ve heard the demos, and that has blown me away.
Friday night, Nov. 26, one of my favorite bands and some of nicest guys you’ll ever meet, Fearless Four, help you dance away the previous day’s holiday feast at Underground 119. Akami & The Key of G hit up Freelon’s; Martin’s entertains the masses with Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory; Hal & Mal’s hosts the fun-loving garage rockers M.O.T.O., Los Buddies, and Fast Boyfriends; and Poets II has Chasing Scarlett playing all your favorites.
If you’re out of town for the holidays, Memphis hosts Mississippi homemade musicians, the North Mississippi All-Stars, at Minglewood Hall (1555 Madison Ave., Memphis) Friday, too.
Continue catching up with family and friends Saturday night with Pat Brown & The Millenium at F. Jones Corner. Dent May performs at Sneaky Beans, Scott Albert Johnson blows it on the harmonica at Underground 119, and Zoogma takes the stage at Martin’s. Check them out beforehand at http://www.zoogma.net.
And back up Memphis way, Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes Earle plays Tuesday, Nov. 30 at the Hi-Tone Café (1913 Poplar Ave., Memphis).
Don’t forget to help me help you by posting your gigs. Send info to email@example.com. Peace, love and all the above to you and your family this Thanksgiving.
Best of Jackson: R&B Artist
To hear the best R&B voice in the city, make it your business to go to the Executive Place on Bailey Avenue. There, you can hear Akami Graham singing songs the godmothers of rhythm & blues made famous. Singers like Chaka Kahn and Aretha Franklin. As Graham puts her on twist on '70s classics, she brings you up-to-date, paying tribute to modern-day performing artists like Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige. This sweet and soulful singer definitely has a music career she can look forward to, and Jackson has in its own backyard, a star in the making.
Vasti Jackson, voted second best R&B voice in the city, has a sound that's taken him places: Monterey Jazz Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and he's even toured Europe with Z.Z. Hill. Tying for third were Dorothy Moore and Compozitionz, a group that started in 1994 on Jackson State's campus.
— Natalie A. Collier
Sweet & Soulful by Adrienne Hearn
The sweet and soulful voice of Akami Graham fills a room full of people who've come to kick back, share a drink with friends and listen to great music at the end of a long hard day of work. Here at The Executive on Thursday nights, it isn't a rare thing to observe listeners eagerly showing their enjoyment by singing along, or to watch as male club-goers show their appreciation for Graham's act by willingly giving up their own cold hard cash to the siren as she belts out some of the greatest hits from artists like Chaka Kahn, Betty Wright, Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige.
Graham says that she loves to perform and loves the reaction that she receives from the audience. Her onstage presence is full of life and reveals an entertainer who is comfortable and at one with her audience. By contrast, upon first introductions, Graham seems a bit introverted, giving short but sweet answers to questions about her interests and her desires for a career in music, as well as her history as a budding vocalist with such a strong voice.
Born and bred here in the city of Jackson, 25-year-old Graham attended Jim Hill High School, where she was a member of the Jim Hill Singers. The reputable talent of the Jim Hill Singers allowed them to travel to places such as Italy, giving Graham a glimpse into the type of rewarding lifestyle that could be achieved as a great performance artist.
Graham's stepping stone into the world of music began at the age of 5 when she began taking piano lessons. However, Graham states that she wasn't even aware of her actual singing ability until much later: "I didn't get into singing until junior high. My music teacher at school … I didn't really know I could sing until he put me on the spot and made me sing a solo," she says.
Graham's Thursday night routine generally consists of R&B music combined with a bit of southern soul. Throw in a live band, and you've got a night of live entertainment that just can't be beat. Graham says that music is indeed her first love and that she enjoys listening to Jill Scott, Bilal and Mint Condition as well as other music artists. Though at the moment she isn't signed to any particular indie or major recording company, Graham's desire is to find her place in the entertainment world one day. "I want to leave my mark as a real entertainer," she says.
Graham is looking to put together her own solo project, hopefully with the help of popular Mississippi producer Drummaboi of Traxxtar Records. However, this time, pre-recorded hits from other artists will not be featured on this exclusive project: Graham says she will be writing her own material and believes she has a lot to say.
"I write about love, heartache, disappointment and different life experiences," Graham says.
While "staying the pace" on the road to becoming a successful solo artist taking hold of as many performance opportunities as possible, Graham enlists the help of two good friends to help take care of the business that we as listeners are so rarely aware of in the world of entertainment. Dana Terry, owner of Signature Affairs, helps with Graham's public relations, while Kory Banks, with Hardkore Promotions, acts as manager.
Graham can be seen and heard every Thursday night at The Executive on Bailey Avenue beginning at 9 p.m. The songstress is also available for hire for private functions as well. "I do different venues, weddings, you know, receptions … all types of private functions." Graham can be booked through manager Kory Banks at 601-918-3914.