By Margit Resch
Sing this: “Kee-sho-nuh, Kee-sho-nuh, on Fripp she will sing… Kee-sho-nuh, Kee-sho-nuh, on Fripp she will sing.”
Did you really find a melody for these words, and did sing them? Then you were communicating the news that Kyshona will sing on Fripp the way Kyshona Armstrong herself would: with music. With music that is created to tell a story, send a message. Yes, Kyshona Armstrong doesn’t just entertain with her soulful blend of folk, rock, and blues, with her intriguing story-telling; she wants to heal the hurting, to encourage us to battle adversity in our community, overcome hate, change our troubled world, practice empathy and love, work towards a better future. To quote from the review of Kyshona’s album Listen by The Bluegrass Situation: “The melodies are catchy, but it’s the lyrics that really grab the attention on this album. [Kyshona] sings with the undeniable spirit and conviction that was more common in the tumultuous 60s. However, through all the turmoil of the times, the message is ultimately one of hope that leaves you believing things will get better.” And one fan wrote: “Amidst these hard, divisive times this set of songs is a salve for the grief many of us are feeling about resulting loss of family, friends, and community.”
Given Kyshona’s admirable goals, it is not surprising to hear that she began her career as a musical therapist, writing songs with her patients in mind, writing songs with her patients: the students and the prison inmates under her care, the marginalized, the silenced and the forgotten. Us.
Kyshona hails from South Carolina. Her father played LPs from his huge
record collection all day long, when he was not playing guitar and singing in his room; so there was always music in the home. Kyshona also loved watching her dad and her grandparents perform in church.“When they opened their mouths, I sat back and listened,” she says. She learned to play the piano early. “I loved the idea of telling a story or conveying an emotion through the piano keys,” she says. “The beauty was that I never had to look at an audience or do anything flashy. I simply had to play and focus on the musical story.” It was not until her senior year in high school that she sang in front of an audience, a scary experience. A career in music therapy helped her overcome her fear of performance. “I was using the music as a tool for healing,” she says. “My patients didn’t care about how my voice sounded, or how I looked. They just wanted a connection. That’s the part of performing that I love. Connecting.”
From Athens, Georgia, where she was a fixture in the singer-songwriter circles, she moved to Nashville. She found her place in the soul and rock music scenes there and has released four albums since. Kyshona has had the privilege of sharing the stage with Wynonna Judd, Margo Price, Even Stevens, JD McPherson, Cracker, and many more. Deemed “One of the most compassionate and uplifting young voices in Nashville today” by NPR Music’s World Cafe, Kyshona’s music has been heard on Issa Rae’s (HBO’s Insecure) short film series and on major prime time television shows on ABC, CBS and NBC.
And speaking of connecting. Kyshona certainly knows how to connect to her audience. Her narrative songwriting, descriptive guitar-playing and powerful lyrical voice, all enhanced by her two spirited fellow musicians, have the power to not only awaken, but to sustain our attention, like when she addresses us all: “Brothers and Sisters… hear what I’m saying.” She has the power to awaken in us empathy and the desire to help our needy fellow human beings, awaken in us the wish to heal our societal ills. She inspires us to follow her lead.
By the way, if you want to persuade your friends to come to the concert with you by singing to them “Kee-sho-nuh, kee-sho-nuh, on Fripp she will sing,” use Nelson Riddle’s tune, sung famously by Frank Sinatra: “Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town. Chicago, Chicago, I will show you around.” Or just tell your friends the following:
The Kyshona Trio will entertain us Sunday, March 27, 5:00 pm at the Fripp Community Centre, 205 Tarpon Boulevard. It is presented by Fripp Friends of Music, supported by the SC Arts Commission, and benefits FIFOM’s Music-in-the-Schools program. Tickets at the door: adults $30 (credit cards accepted), students free thanks to the Peg Gorham Memorial Fund. You are invited to our complimentary post-performance reception, catered by Harold’s Chef Services, and meet the musicians. Go to www.frippfriendsofmusic.com or call Vanessa Peñaherrera at 1-484-832-4920 for more information.