Thanks to Newport Live and the Norman Bird Sanctuary, we have a pair of tickets to giveaway to the show happening this Friday at 7PM. Just e-mail email@example.com by 5PM Tuesday, June 7 to enter – please put “Kyshona tickets” in the subject line.
The first in a series of outdoor concerts at the Norman Bird Sanctuary this summer will feature singer-songwriter Kyshona on Friday, June 10. The outdoor concert, beginning at 7 PM, is co-sponsored by “Newport Live,” formerly Common Fence Music.
Kyshona is the stage name for Kyshona Armstrong, who has been a music professional for over two decades. “Lately I’ve been going by my first name only,” Armstrong told me in an interview. “A friend of mine years ago told me that the pronunciation of my name means ‘the light’ in a language he found so I’ve been going by that as a reminder to myself to try to be the light everywhere I go.”
It’s not her first time in Newport – she stayed at a home adjacent to the Sanctuary when she was in town at last summer’s Newport Folk event as a member of Allison Russell’s band. In a memorable performance, Russell headlined “Once and Future Sounds” at the 2021 Festival. “Allison took all of the black women she knew in the genre and brought us to the stage, and we ended singing with Chaka Khan,” said Kyshona.
“That was my first time in Rhode Island – I’m really excited to come back and actually spend time there,” she continued. The festival “felt like a very chaotic, awesome, magical experience. I’m really looking forward to coming in and taking in the space.”
Kyshona explained how her background influences her approach to music.
“I was a music therapist for 15 years before I decided to become a full-time singer-songwriter. I was working in mental hospitals, working with kids, schools where children were diagnosed with emotional behavior disorders, and going to nursing homes. I used my voice as a therapeutic tool for a very long time. I wasn’t a singer, I was a pianist and an oboe player, I was classically trained in those instruments. I had to figure out how to use my voice therapeutically in those environments,” she explained. “Music therapy is where I learned to tell stories and meet people where they are.”
“About nine years ago, I moved to Nashville to learn a little more about songwriting. The community here is strong and very into connecting people. What’s happened over the years is I’ve found my way back into doing music therapy but in a way where I’m not held or bound by the institutions I’m working in,” she explained.
The career change made her a more compassionate songwriter.
“I’m focused on listening to other people’s stories, I’m always trying to find a way to use their story to help heal others,” she said. “How can I heal them and how can I relate to their story? That’s the approach I’ve always taken.”
In addition to touring and recording, Kyshona leads songwriting workshops for the Country Music Hall of Fame, where she works with children who are experiencing homelessness in Nashville.
“My music therapy experience allows me to take away the rules of songwriting. I’m not telling them they have to rhyme, I’m not telling them they have to do a verse, a bridge, and a chorus. I try to take the words that naturally come out of their mouth and show them what is their story and what is their song. As long as you’re honest and true and you’re telling the truth, we can put music to that however it is.”
By featuring artists like Allison Russell, Rhianon Giddens, and Our Native Daughters, the Newport festivals have led the way in bringing women of color to the stage in recent years. It’s a positive development, long overdue, and is catching on in Americana/Country music circles.
“To think about all of these artists that people are discovering, we’ve all been here, we’ve been doing this for many years. I’ve been an artist for ten years, Yola, Allison Russell has been out for over ten years, all of us have been doing this for a while.”
A lot changed in the summer of 2020, after the killing of George Floyd.
“I wrote it all in my last album Listen, I think that’s how a lot of people found my album and shared a few songs,” Kyshona explained. “We were all finally being asked to come and share our views. Yola, Allison, and I did a panel discussion for a folk event over in the UK that summer where we talked about the fact that there are many stories missing if you only invite one of us to the table. It’s always been one woman, one person of color,” said Kyshona.
“They thought, we already have someone that plays the banjo we can’t have another one. So you can have many white men and women who are playing the same genre, but you can only have one black woman? There are so many perspectives. Allison comes from Canada, Yola is from the UK. Amythyst is from East Tennessee, I’m from South Carolina. These are totally different experiences and voices and you’re eliminating a full culture and a true story when we only invite one to the table.”
“I think there’s being a reckoning amongst these two genres, the Americana world in the Country world, realizing OK, we need to put these forward. We’ve always been here, it’s just finally people are inviting us, wanting us to come in,” she concluded.