by Joy Doss
Keia Johnson is a bright light. When we met at Music + Arts Studio in Cooper Young, she bounded in radiating positive, happy energy. We’re there to talk about her Christmas singles – a cover of “The Christmas Song” and another of Stevie Wonder’s, “Someday at Christmas.”
I told her we’re all about “soul holidays” at my house, so this was great for me. Ironically, I felt the same way when I heard “Someday at Christmas” for the first time this holiday season. Over 40 years later, those lyrics still matter.
“I’ve always loved Christmas and wanted to record Christmas music. This year felt particularly special for making this music (because) I wanted to give a little hope. Stevie Wonder nailed it; his lyrics are still appropriate for today,” says the self-described agent of healing.
Keia added “The Christmas Song” for balance. While Stevie Wonder’s song is message-driven and socially conscious, “The Christmas Song” is a traditional standard that gives you the warm and fuzzies and makes you feel nostalgic.
Keia says she is like Santa’s helper, preserving the magic and mood of Christmas.
Keia just returned from Atlanta, where she sang at the Caroling with Q Parker event (from the group 112). She was onstage with R&B favorites KeKe Wyatt, Montel Jordan, Syleena Johnson and Kelli Price. And on December 23 she will perform at the Wishing Carols event here in Memphis for the seventh year (For more about this: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wishing-carols-2017-tickets-40790731175.)
I suspect that a part of the light in Keia’s life is her faith. She stays grounded in the midst of an industry that is challenging and full of “noise” as she describes it. It can be brutal but her steadfastness helps her navigate the trials and distractions.
“It’s important to know who you are,” she says. “When you know who you are, you won’t fall for any and everything. (For instance) I don’t cuss in my music and I don’t degrade myself. No judgment on anyone else.”
She chose to be a secular artist versus a gospel artist because she didn’t want to be pigeon-holed or limit her reach. And she sees no need to preach to the choir.
“My mission is to be in the world and be the light in the world. Saved people are already saved. There’s so much more that we can talk about to get people to the church. That’s the lane I want to play in.”
I asked if the goal was to be picked up a by a major. Surprisingly, this was not an instant YES.
“I love being an indie artist,” she says, “I don’t fit in a box. And I’m not at the age or level of maturity where I can be dropped into the music industry machine and spit back out.”
She cites the singer Emily King as a model. King had been enjoying indie success for years, crafting her own brand and building her own following when the label came calling. This is what Keia wants in a label partner – latitude and ownership over her personal brand.
“Though I would love the financing, I only want to be on a major label if they can respect who I am,” she says.
Keia is an alum of both “American Idol” and “The Voice,” which she says helped turn on the light despite the hurt of not winning. She says God poured into her after that – songs, music, show ideas – and she hasn’t looked back since. She is walking in her purpose and making it her provision.
Shine on sis! Stand firm. Even greater rewards are in store. We speak blessings upon blessings into your life!
(Keia’s music is available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and in the Google Play app.)