An incredible musical journey started on her mother’s lap

By Azhae’la Hanson, Reporter MYNORTHNEWS

My NorthNews

Ann Nesby would bring her daughter to church and sit her on her lap while she sang. When she finished, she would silently sit with other churchgoers and pray. 

The adults in the room knew that you would stop singing when that happened. But a sweet little voice was coming from the lap of Ann, her daughter Jamecia Bennett, who was 2 at the time. 

“She kept on singing,” Nesby said. “We knew she had a gift.” 

In late February, Jamecia Bennett became the first woman to be a resident artist at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, and the one-time performance was the accumulation of a lifetime’s dedication to finding her voice. 

Bennett was raised in a family of musicians, and her passion for music was cultivated from a young age. Her musical roots run deep, stemming from the harmonies taught by her mother, a former lead singer for the Grammy Award-winning music troupe Sounds of Blackness. 

Bennett recalls the melodies of her and her mother’s voices carrying the tunes of Black artists throughout their home, some of whom greatly influenced Bennett’s sound later on. 

“The legends like Rosetta Tharpe, Aretha Franklin, and Chaka Khan are some of the many amazing artists that inspire me,” Bennett said. 

She began to trailblaze her way into the stars in her teens. At 16, she became the youngest member of Sounds of Blackness and embarked on a global musical career collaborating with renowned producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. When she graduated from North High School in 1991, she was in London performing instead of at the ceremony. 

After meeting the legendary producers, Bennett was thrown into a full-fledged music career. A global tour with the Sounds of Blackness led to a solo contract from Mercury Records, resulting in platinum and gold albums for her contributions to movie soundtracks such as Jason’s Lyric, Kazaam, and Posse. In 2012, Bennett and Sounds of Blackness won an NAACP Image Award. She also won a Grammy Award for her work with Gospel Artist Le’Andria Johnson. 

Bennett’s versatility extends to the Billboard charts, where she reached No. 8 as a featured lead soloist with Dove and Stellar nominees James Grear and Company. She is a multidisciplinary talent as an actress in “The Color Purple,” “RENT,” and Tyler Perry’s “Family Reunion.” 

The opportunity to add ‘history maker’ to her long list of accomplishments originally came in 2020, when the Ordway approached her about performing a one-night show. 

“I was ecstatic,” Bennett said. “And then the pandemic happened.” 

The constraints imposed by the pandemic confined Bennett to performing on the docks outside the Ordway Center. In 2022, the Ordway approached her to bring her talents to their main stage yet again. 

Since then, she’s perfected the February show for two years, and her band, J Movement, has sold out the Dakota Jazz Club for three nights in a row. 

“When you go from selling out a 250-person room to now having someone believe in you to sell out, you know, 1,000 or so seats, it’s just a blessing for me to have this opportunity,” Bennett said. 

Before the big show started, an announcer got on stage to address the audience. 

“I know we’re used to golf clapping,” he joked. “But if you need to stand, clap, or shout, do it. That’s what kind of performance this is.” 

She is no stranger to the Ordway. Ushers who volunteered specifically for her performance beamed in the aisles, recalling Bennett’s performance as Ms. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. 

“She stole the show back then,” said one usher. “I said to myself that she (Bennett) should have her own show. I just had to volunteer when I saw she would be performing tonight.” 

Even though Bennett is a familiar face, she is the first woman to have an artist residency in the venue’s 39-year history. 

Her Aunt Shirley ‘Marie’ Graham joined her on stage to sing background vocals, and the crowd was packed with friends and family. 

“Our family is blessed with the gift of music; to be able to share that with you all is amazing,” Graham said. “To be able to support her on this big night is a blessing.” 

The one-night-only performance didn’t disappoint. The auditorium was engulfed in a beautiful blue light, and the audience was in awe as Bennett sang classics with her fusion of jazz, blues, and soul. 

“Three Grammys later and, you know, maybe about 50 shows under my belt in this theater world, that everything is possible. Everything is possible,” she said.