A Long Way To Go: Celisse and Adia Victoria @ Park City Song Summit
With live shows and intimate, MasterClass-style panels, the Sept. 7–10 Park City Song Summit “redefines the live music experience.” This year’s installment featured conversations surrounding social equity within music as well as the struggles and breakthroughs of the creative journey, creating an environment for connection between artists and audiences like never before. Names such as Warren Haynes, Tré Burt and Keller Williams’ Grateful Gospel graced several venues along Park City’s Main Street and the Lodges at Deer Valley. An auction supporting charities such as Backline showcased the Summit’s focus on underrepresented topics within the industry—namely, mental health and addiction. While the Summit was previously held in 2019, organizers said that 2022 was unrecognizable; here’s to hoping that this unique, incredible event continues to flourish!
Just the mention of blues powerhouses Celisse and Adia Victoria in a room together was enough to make sure I was front row at the Park City Song Summit’s Sunburst tent. Add in that Victoria was interviewing Celisse about her personal journey with music, and you couldn’t have pulled me away from my seat!
As Victoria says, Celisse is the moment. She’s performed with the likes of Lizzo, Graham Nash, Trey Anastasio and, to top it off, on Broadway in the national tour of Wicked. Her beginnings, though, begin in church, singing as a child: “[From] out the womb, I felt I had something to say.”
With her rock and blues sound and her identity as a Black woman, Celisse says the ancestral shoulders she stands on are never far from her mind. Victoria chimed in here with a term that particularly resonated: blues work. Part of the Black experience in America is being separated from your lineage, Victoria explained, and Celisse is doing blues work to continue those ancestral ties.
Far too often, those ancestral ties have been erased. While Celisses mentions that there’s been some progress with recentering Black men’s contributions to rock ’n roll, pioneering Black women such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe are still erased in America’s “selective memory.” “[She] really is all of our [blues] woman whether you know her or not,” Celisse says. “Rock ‘n roll in its essence truly is a Black woman personified.”
The crowd especially loved this, responding with applause before Celisse continued. “What it is to be Black in this particular way, these things have been extracted,” she says, where then the characteristics are placed into “more palatable bodies.” Because of how whiteness has appropriated the blues, the true story of how the genre came to be was erased. As Victoria says, “What gets recorded gets remembered,” and the Black history of music far too often gets shoved aside.
Not only does playing music connect them to their lineage, Celisse and Victoria both resonate with the blues as a “therapeutic pursuit” as well. When Victoria found the blues, she felt powerful for the first time, an important message that she says Celisse sends to young Black girls. Music gave Victoria a way to move through the “stuckness” of frustrating cycles; especially in 2016 after police murdered George Floyd and the passing of Rep. John Lewis, where she felt “isolated with rage.” For Victoria, the blues are “life-affirming.”
Celisse felt similarly, saying that her songs are the sword she wields in this fight. Her song, “Freedom,” was originally penned in 2016, but she waited to release it until 2020: “Unfortunately, it just became more timely,” Celisse says.
The act of performing itself is an act of recentering. Celisse says that there’s “something about this visual of” herself that makes people think differently. Her bold style, her identities she embraces without apology, the fact that she intentionally takes up space in an industry that has worked so hard to erase her—Celisse sees it as a “huge blessing.” “Here’s a different way to see us,” she says. For Victoria, watching Celisse “completely divorcing [herself] from respectability politics” to embrace the pursuit of joy gave her joy.
The hour of discussion went far too quickly, but thankfully, Victoria’s got more interviews with other incredible musicians on her podcast, Call And Response. As for Celisse’s future? She says she needs to “reacquaint myself with myself.” When she’s settled, Celisse’s next focus will be her new album, something I’ll be front row in line to buy.