By Kelly Baughman
Melissa Joiner may come from a musical legacy, but her talent and style are one hundred percent original. Born and raised in Baldwin county and introduced to the music world by her father John Joiner (featured in last issue’s Music in the Sand), she knew early on that music ran deep in her blood. Watching and learning from her father sparked her general interest for music, but Joiner said it was actually her mother who was her greatest musical influence while growing up.
“Ever since I can remember, Dad was always playing and my grandmother was always teaching me hymnals, but my mom and I would dance around the living room listening to Fleetwood Mac. I loved the soul and harmonies in their music. To me there was, and still isn’t, anyone cooler that Stevie Nicks,” she said.
Joiner said she grew up listening to bands like The Temptations and The Doobie Brothers, but she even had a soft spot for pop, admitting that she went through a serious Britney Spears and Mariah Carey phase.
Joiner’s talent for singing and gypsy rebel outlook developed quickly, and by the age of 7, she was singing runs and difficult songs that most adults wouldn’t dare tackle. “I remember trying out to be in the talent show in 2nd grade. I sang a Mariah Carey song, and they thought I was lip syncing. I had to assure them that it was indeed me singing so they would let me in,” Joiner laughs. “I guess not many 2nd graders at that time were taking on Mariah Carey and certainly weren’t doing it well,” said Joiner.
Joiner’s father was a part of the popular group, The Dixie Flyers, and said she cut her teeth on stage early in life. I can remember being 3 or 4 years old, hanging out at the Flora-Bama while watching my Dad. I loved clapping to the music, and I couldn’t wait to get on stage and sing.” And it didn’t take her long.
Joiner began singing and writing her own music by the time she was a teen, and said that she found more comfort in being on stage rather than being off stage among her peers. “I have just always felt like I’m my most authentic self when I’m on stage. I feel like it’s where I can show the world who I really am,” Joiner said.
As a Senior at Robertsdale High School, Joiner won Outstanding Choral Student and represented her school at a National event at Samford University. “I quickly realized that I was the only representative there from my state that didn’t have formal vocal training, but I was still able to hold my own with these amazing singers from all over the country,” she said.
Shortly after, Joiner was awarded a vocal scholarship at Delta State University, where she studied Opera. “As a Freshman I earned the lead role in the school Opera, and it wasn’t easy. I had to learn how to condition my voice, control my breathing, and harness my range,” she recalled. Joiner thought that Opera would be her career path, but that all changed one fateful night while on a trip to Clarksdale.
“I had taken a trip to see some Blues acts, and it was the first time I had heard a woman with a growl in her voice. It was wild and untamed, but perfectly in tune. I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Joiner said. “Unfortunately, Opera isn’t really as respected in our area as it is in other regions, so I knew if I wanted to make a career out of this, I needed to change my focus. And blues was the answer to that for me.”
Joiner started studying blues acts, finding heavy influence in Ella Fitzgerald and local “jazz gypsy”, Nick Branch. Her music evolved into a genre that incorporates elements of folk, jazz, blues, rock, country, and more.
“With people always comparing me to my dad, I felt like I had something to prove. It wasn’t until I went out on tour on my own that I started to really feel respected as a musician. The people I played for didn’t know my dad, and didn’t compare my music to his. When they loved my songs, I knew they were really loving me for me,” Joiner said.
For the last three years, Joiner has been on the road chasing her dreams, at first as a solo act, and now as a duo with her boyfriend who is a sound engineer and accomplished cellist. “We’ve been on tour through South Florida, Jamaica, the east coast, west coast, and Canada. It’s a very liberating feeling to take your act on the road and have continued success. But I will always miss home,” Joiner said.
Joiner said that while the road is where she wants to be, her biggest regret about touring is not being able to focus her time on her charity work with ‘Songs That Save’. Joiner’s own philanthropic brainchild, ‘Songs That Save’, donates 100% of all proceeds raised to local charities like the Penelope House and Secret Meals 4 Kids.
“I know that I’d like to be able to focus more of my time to the charity in the future, so I’m sure that will call me home once again,” she said. But for now, Joiner continues to write, record, and tour the country like the gypsy soul she always knew she possessed.
To see Joiner in her upcoming local tour shows, head to the Perdido Key Sports Bar on Monday, April 8th for the Flora-Bama Church Replay service (Joiner founded the choir at the non-denominational, heavily music driven church), where she will be performing from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Then catch Joiner’s duo at Big Beach Brewing Company on April 25th, and the Anchor Bar on April 26th and 27th.
For more information on Melissa Joiner and her music, visit www.melissajoinermusic.com.