By Lily Doolin
The Blues emerged during a time in America’s history that was wrought with slavery, racism, and oppression. From its beginnings, the genre was a powerful medium for black artists to share their struggles with the world. Gothic Indie Blues singer Adia Victoria carries that torch today. She has spent upwards to a decade of her life writing Blues music that speaks to her personal struggles as a black woman in today’s current world. A certified “Dope Queen,” Victoria is using her voice and art to—in her own words—"reclaim the Blues genre.”
You can buy tickets to see Adia Victoria perform live at WERS’ 70th birthday!
Victoria’s Genesis—Leaving the Advent Church
Victoria grew up in South Carolina as a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (a Protestant sect). For much of her early life, she attended private schools and was sheltered from the secular world. After her parents divorced, however, she was moved to public school for the sixth grade.
Feeling like she didn’t fit in, Victoria began to retreat into her art as a means of getting by. While things were tough for her, this change to public school started her interest in mainstream music. There, she learned of artists like Kurt Cobain and Fiona Apple. Their music eventually inspired her to move to Nashville at the age of 21 and pursue the Blues.
“Stuck in the South”
Victoria’s very first single, “Stuck in the South,” hints at that restricted, uneasy upbringing she experienced as a child in South Carolina. In addition, she addresses the hateful discrimination she faces at the expense of her race. She sings “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout Southern belles/But, I can tell you something ‘bout Southern hell/When your skin give ‘em cause/To take and take.”
“Stuck in the South” is ultimately a plea. Victoria cannot get stuck in the South. If she does, she will never escape the oppression and confinement she feels. In this way, “the South” becomes less of a place, and more of a mindset. She’s looking to free herself from any sort of repression that comes with the color of her skin. It’s a powerful declaration of freedom, while also being a foreboding message as to the racial tension in today’s society.
Victoria’s 2016 debut album Beyond the Bloodhounds continues to deal with themes of race and religion. The title itself is a reference to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Victoria is certainly not afraid to bring the Blues back to its origins of being a vehicle to discuss race.
Refusing to Stay Silent
Victoria returned in early 2019 with the release of her second album Silences. Throughout the piece, Victoria sticks to her guns. She continues to attack the forces trying to hold her down, continuing to call out racism. In addition, she touches on feminist themes in this album. She acts as a champion for women’s rights in the South and beyond.
However, while she may be combatting some external demons, Victoria also talks about embracing her inner demons. In this record, she perfectly balances fighting the demons of the world, while having a little fun with her own personal “sins.” It’s a record that shows evolution as an artist, but is still heavily anchored to her roots in the Blues genre. Her sound is melancholy and gothic, but her lyrics are all 21st century.
Throughout her discography so far, Victoria continues to blend the traditions of Blues with the modern world. It’s a feat not many artists today can accomplish. Victoria, however, strikes that perfect balance between honoring her origins while blending them with her own personal flair.
Because of her amazing success as an artist, Victoria was recently awarded the 2019 Holly Prize by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. This award is given out in honor of Buddy Holly, and “recognizes and supports a new 'all-in-one songwriter' — an exceptionally talented and inspired young musician/singer/songwriter whose work exhibits the qualities of Holly’s music: true, great and original.”