Jessy Wilson on the ‘Keep Rising’ anthem and the hope it brings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Singer-songwriter Jessy Wilson was ready to give up her musical dream when a film about African female warriors showed her the power of perseverance.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Singer-songwriter Jessy Wilson was ready to give up her musical dream when a film about African female warriors showed her the power of perseverance.

Wilson’s Grammy-nominated song “Keep Rising” was chosen by director Gina Prince-Bythewood to feature in her action epic “The Woman King.”

Wilson and her co-writers Angelique Kidjo and Jeremy Lutito are nominated alongside Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Billie Eilish in the category of Best Song Written for Visual Media at Sunday’s ceremony.

“‘The Woman King’ really brought me back to life, really,” Wilson said.

The anthemic and uplifting song came after the darkest period of Wilson’s life. The pandemic had left her questioning her career after decades of singing and writing not only for her own records but for other artists as well.

When she and her husband found out she was pregnant in 2021, Wilson was ready to devote her attention to being a mother. But four months into her pregnancy, she had a miscarriage.

“Sometimes in life, you can just hit a patch and you’re like, ‘This is it. This will get me out. This is going to be the way I am forever. I will always be depressed. I’m always going to feel dark and like I can’t see my way from here,” Wilson recalled.

The song, which she had written months before, reminded her of the need to remain hopeful. “It was just kind of a two-way feeling, this nuance of two-way for me, like talking to people, but also talking to myself,” Wilson said.

Born in Brooklyn, Wilson has been performing since the age of 7 in musical theaters and clubs in New York. She served as a backup singer for Alicia Keys, then began working with John Legend, who encouraged her to take up songwriting.

“He’s such a phenomenal songwriter and a lot of the way I approach songwriting today is because I watched him from start to finish, how he developed the song and how it was conceived and all those things,” Wilson said.

Legend invited her on a songwriting trip to Nashville, Tennessee to write with country star Faith Hill and felt so encouraged by the music community there that she later moved on.

In Nashville, she explored different musical interests, forming a roots rock duo with singer Kallie North called Muddy Magnolias, then working with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys for his solo album “Phase” in 2019.

“It was an artistic statement and it’s a really beautiful album,” Wilson said. “And I’m very proud of the chances I’m willing to take as an artist along the way.”

Around the same time she was working on her solo album, she received a message on Instagram from rapper and producer Tyler, The Creator, asking her to help with background vocals on his acclaimed “Igor” album. by critics in 2019. This record went on to win Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards in 2020.

But the pandemic has turned his career and his life upside down. Her father, a healthcare worker in New York City, caught COVID-19 in April 2020, when the city was hit hard by the deadly pandemic. He survived after days on a ventilator.

She couldn’t perform, and songwriting on Zoom left her uninspired. But before leaving her publishing contract, she recorded an unfinished version of “Keep Rising”.

With input from Prince-Bythewood and the studio, lyrics were added to match the film’s storyline of a West African kingdom ruled by an all-female warrior band. They also brought in Kidjo, the hugely influential activist and Grammy-winning singer, to sing with Wilson.

Wilson said she immediately connected on a personal level to the film’s cast of darker-skinned black women, including actors like Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis.

“I really lived being told I wasn’t the right kind of pretty or the right kind of marketable because of my complexion,” Wilson said. “And it was really empowering to see a cast full of beautiful brunette women existing in their power, existing in their strength and intelligence.”

The signs from the universe seemed to tell her that she shouldn’t give up on her music. The day she heard from the studio that her song was going to be in the movie was the due date for her son, Willing Reve. Now she’s writing again and hopes “The Woman King” will open more doors for her to write songs for movies.

“I still have so much to say. My voice is important,” she said. “And I should, as the song says, keep going up.”

Kristin M. Hall, Associated Press

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