Local singer/songwriter returns for benefit concert

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Southampton County native Tamara Wellons will be performing at the Historic Fort Monroe Theater, 42 Tidball Road in Hampton, this Saturday, April 11. “The Sounds of Hampton Roads,” which also features Hampton’s Karla Crump and Myra Smith of Newport News, will benefit The Empowering and Uplifting Foundation, a local non-profit organization that focuses on education and issues affecting the homeless.

Wellons has booked live performances around the world, from her hometown church in Ivor to the prestigious Jazz Cafe in London. Blending a unique mix of folk, soul, jazz and house music, critics rave about her hypnotic and commanding vocals.

Singing in that same church as a child, Wellons was known as the “little girl with the big voice.” This comes as no surprise, either, as Wellons is the granddaughter of a legendary gospel group, The Pritchett Sisters.

At the age of 18, Wellons left Ivor to attend Bowie State University in Maryland. Despite her studies focusing on early childhood development, Wellons immersed herself in the school’s jazz ensemble.

Although Wellons grew up on what she refers to as “folk music” — knee slapping, hand clapping and foot stomping syncopated rhythms — the ensemble allowed her to diversify her musicality with its eclectic jazz and soul feel.

Wellons’ musical breakthrough came in 2005, when she was discovered by house music producer Osunlade at the Winter Music Conference in Miami, Florida. The pair teamed up with producers Carlos Mena and Wale Oyejide to creat her debut album, “Life Is,” which was released in 2007. Her first single, “Oh Well,” still receives radio play six years later.

This project led to collaborations with some of the most notable names in the house genre, including: Grammy award-winning disc jockey Roger Sanchez; Grammy-nominated producer KOKAYI; producers Jihad Muhammed and Nomumbah; and Italian producer Anton Vitale.

Wellons released her second album, “Like Rain,” in April 2008. It was described at “truly on that other level, in terms of groove and being motivational.” Same goes for “In My Lifetime,” her third studio album. It was dubbed a “hypnotic house record” that only further diversified her fan base because of the airtime it received in South Africa.

She was also featured on Thievery Corporation’s “Culture of Fear” album, which only expanded her audience even more.

Her latest project, “Songs for Janie,” was released in April 2012. In this album, Wellons returned to her folk music roots for a musical and theatrical interpretation of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

Wellons said that she didn’t have to look far for the album’s inspiration.

“We all have an inner-Janie. So for me, speaking to her character through song was very self affirming,” she said. “The album is a reminder that love and spirituality are symbiotic. One can’t exists without the other.”

Wellons has received numerous accolades for her work, including, most recently, the Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award. She is most proud of the work that she has done locally, though. She developed two annual community-based initiatives: a prison songwriting camp that enables incarcerated fathers and their children to bond through songwriting and a summer music camp that deepens the appreciation for musicianship and performing arts in children.

“I’ve always felt that educating others is my purpose in life, be it via the classroom or the stage,” Wellons said. “I’ve also been blessed with this wonderful gift of song. I want to use my gift as a conduit to fulfilling my life’s purpose.”

You can see the award-winning singer and songwriter at “The Sounds of Hampton Roads” on Saturday, April 11. The event will begin at 6 p.m.; doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at sohr.eventbrite.com, or by contacting the Guiding Young Girls Mental Health Agency of Franklin at 562-2108. More information can be found by searching the event’s name on Facebook.