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Jun 1, 2009

Loc'd Beauty of the Week

I have the pleasure of personally knowing this beautifully loc'd diva. She is as sweet as her face in this picture. I used to play on the same stage as she a few years ago, when I performed spoken word. With the voice and face of an angel and a Medusan tangle of dreadlocks as thick and strong as her family ties and her musical roots in the flatlands of West Tennessee, Valerie June is a true original and an emerging star in the legendary and still vibrant Memphis music scene.

A self-taught guitar player, composer and troubadour of heartbreak ballads, folk songs, spirituals, soul-stirring blues and what she calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music,” Valerie is poised to reach a wide audience as one of the stars of the ballyhooed new MTV web series “$5 Cover,” written and directed by Craig Brewer, creator of the Oscar-winning movie “Hustle & Flow.”
With a haunting, distinctive voice that will appeal to fans of Linda Thompson, Michelle Shocked, Jeff Tweedy, Sinead O’Connor, Jessie Mae Hemphill and the music world’s most famous Bobs, Dylan and Marley, Valerie began to pursue songwriting and performing at the age of 19, when she was part of the husband-and-wife duo, Bella Sun. Perhaps her relatively early marriage wasn’t a surprise: The oldest girl in a strict Christian family of five children, she was domestic as well as ambitious — she pretty much raised her siblings. Says Valerie: “Grandad always feared for my hips because I always had a baby on ’em.”

Shedding her possessions, this daughter of a brick cleaner from humble Humboldt, Tenn., left the South and traveled up and down the West Coast as a sort of gypsy nightingale, playing for tips on the streets and in bus and subway stations. As interested in “sustainable” technology and natural living as music, she learned to make soap and bath salts, to supplement her income.

Since returning to Memphis, Valerie has been working hard to make ends meet and to make her music the best she can, becoming a mainstay at such events as the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival and the International Folk Alliance Conference, and releasing such albums as “The Way of the Weaping Willow” and “Mountain of Rose Quartz,” recorded at Ardent Studios (Big Star, Replacements, ZZ Top). She’s mastering the banjo and the lap steel guitar, and the new sounds she create vibrate with the tension that occurs when mountain-spring freshness meets rivertown grit. The result is beautiful, generous and authentic — and brimming with gratitude for life, with all its joys and hardships.

Visit her at

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