Best known for her recordings with the likes of Snarky Puppy and Moby, Shayna Steele truly takes flight on her third solo album, ‘Watch Me Fly’, on which eight self-penned originals and two very different classic covers showcase her soulful, powerful energy and mind-blowing vocal artistry.

I am outrageous, larger than life” are the first words heard on the record. A statement of fact rather than bragging, this is the opening line of introductory single ‘Be’, which proceeds to open up in effervescent, ebullient style and acts as an effective appetizer for the many other treats in store. Another fact is that the New York based Steele not only has a charismatic and unique voice but also abundant technique and shear strength. From Soul via Gospel to R’n’B and Jazz, she has performed with the likes of Bette Midler, John Legend, Rihanna, Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, and Kesha, opened for George Clinton and many more, and is a featured vocalist on Snarky Puppy’s ‘Family Dinner’ as well as Moby’s ‘Disco Lies’. Her dynamic vocals and gutsy, sassy on-stage personality, allied to the instrumental skills of her fantastic band, make her a star in waiting.

Born in Sacramento, California to a black father who was in the Air Force and a white mother, Steele lived an itinerant childhood. Moving to Oklahoma and then to Rammstein, Germany, where she spent seven formative years, she had little chance to contemplate her racial identity until her family landed in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1985. She explains, “Rammstein took up quite a bit of my early childhood and had a big influence on how I viewed life, the world and especially racial tension. Living amongst the safety of an Air Force Base in Germany with many other children from bi-racial families gave me a false sense of security and I wasn’t quite ready for the criticism and ridicule I would receive when we moved to Mississippi.” Feeling “awkward, out of place and unsure where to fit in,” she dove headfirst into music, entering (and winning) several pageants and talent shows, as well as appearing on (and almost winning) the nationally televised Ed McMahon’s Star Search at the age of 15. She finished high school and pursued a music degree before exposing herself to the cutthroat reality of the business.

“I never really felt grounded until I moved to New York,” continues Steele. “It was then that I really opened up to different genres of music other than R&B.” Schooled in Jazz by her Godfather and Gospel by her choir director, the Grammy-nominated Michael McElroy, plus some guidance from her father, she began to develop her sound, blending new influences such as Rachelle Farrell and Ledisi with her childhood icons Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and The Temptations.

A completely unexpected call in 2005 would drop her squarely into a genre she had absolutely no experience of: Electronica. Hearing that Moby “needed a screamer” for a track to be included on his album ‘Hotel’, a mutual friend recommended Steele, which resulted in that record’s second  single, ‘Raining Again’. Two years later she laid down vocals for a version of ‘Extreme Ways’,

Moby’s theme song to The Bourne Ultimatum, followed in 2008 by ‘Disco Lies’, the first single from his album ‘Last Night’. This song reached no.1 on the US Billboard Dance charts and went on to be featured in JJ Abrams’ blockbuster ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘The Backup Plan’ (starring Jennifer Lopez). Steele’s voice has remained in demand with her vocals heard in the likes of ‘Hairspray’ (movie soundtrack), ‘The Bourne Legacy’, ‘Sex and the City 2’, ‘The Sopranos’, the BBC’s Olympic Games coverage and NBC’s ‘Smash’.

Meanwhile, Steele had begun writing music with her partner David Cook, who has also been the Musical Director for Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Kesha. Her first full-length album, 2009’s ‘I’ll Be Anything’, put her on  the map as a legitimate solo artist and led to extensive touring with her band, while its follow-up, 2015’s ‘Rise’, featured musicians such as Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, Gregoire Maret, Eric Harland, Sachal Vasandani and Bashiri Johnson. The brand new ‘Watch Me Fly’ showcases her sensual side on a selection of brand new originals and two ‘standards’ from the songbooks of Doris Day and Led Zeppelin.

Steele continues to play solo concerts all over the world with Classical (Rochester Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Dallas Symphony) and Jazz big band orchestras (Latvian Radio Big Band, Estonian Dream Big Band, Columbus Jazz Orchestra), as well as with her quartet and stars such as Chris Botti.

 

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