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Music Journeys: Janiva Magness

Jun 18, 2019

Credit Janiva Magness

Janiva Magness has earned several accolades over her career. The singer and songwriter has won seven Blues Music Awards and the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. 

But Magness has also experienced tremendous trauma, including the loss of her parents to suicide. She performs a special concert in Columbus June 19 for survivors of human trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence. In this edition of Music Journeys with Mike Foley, Magness shares her story and the message she hopes will inspire others.  

Things Left Undone plays…

As she reflects on the songs she's covered or written and recorded herself, Janiva Magness puts Paul Thorn's Things Left Undone among the most powerful and meaningful to her. 

“It’s posing a lot of pretty important questions about a person that's coming to the end segment of their life,” Magness noted. “I feel like that person. I'm 62 years old. My mother killer herself when she was 43. My father killed himself when he was 52, two and a half years later after she passed. They died so young. So to be at this point in the curve, I understand it's probably the last quarter of the game for me. I’m okay with that. Sometimes I’m more uncomfortable than others. But that’s aging, right? But my point in saying all that is simply that I try to not create regret. So when I love someone, I want to tell them. If there’s an amends or something I’ve done to hurt another person, I try to correct that as best as I can because I don't want to leave unfinished business. I try not to create regret is something I’ve finally learned.”

Ragged Company plays…

Magness says she endured physical and sexual abuse and transitioned between a dozen foster homes in a short period of time all before she turned 16. She feels grateful to be free enough - in heart and mind - to speak about the experiences and the road to recovery.    

“It's a bit like a restoration,” Magness said. “I think of it as scraping, the same way you would refinish woodwork in an old craftsman house. Getting clean, as in clean and sober. It’s been a lot of therapy. It’s been a lot of work, activism on a personal level. I have a heavy spiritual practice. A big part of that is helping other people. One of the things I can do because I'm standing on the shore is to stand there and hold the light.”  

Hammer plays…

Inspired from the encouragement of her final foster mother and a performance by Otis Rush, Magness also found stability and salvation in music. Magness released her first album in 1991. Her 15th comes out in September. 

“Music is so powerful and profound to me,” Magness said. “It always has spoken to the places inside of me where I have no words. There are parts of my mind, my heart, bits of my soul where it's not possible to find words for those places and in some cases the experiences. Music has always served as a connecting point, a balm for me.” 

Love Is An Army plays…

“There are people who have far worse stories than me, stories like mine, and stories that aren't nearly as traumatic or dramatic as mine,” Magness noted. “But the point is to be able to come through it, because otherwise what was the reason for that other crap? What was the point of all that if it wasn't to help someone else with a deep understanding of what they are going through and what is possible and how far you can come. My hope is that at some point between the first album and whatever the last album is, there is a connection that happens between me and the listener. Maybe they weren't alone in their experience. Maybe they’re not alone in their loss. Maybe they’re not alone in their rage. Maybe they're not alone in their celebration, in their joy. I hope for a connection. I hope it helps somebody. Speaking of the CATCH program, so many of the women that find themselves ashore in that program, I have such hope for them because I know what it's like to be a person starting from that far back.” 

Janiva Magness has chronicled her experiences in a book called Weeds Like Us. It's expected to be released soon. Her 15th album this fall will be themed around John Fogerty songs. Her special concert comes in partnership with the Franklin County program CATCH, which stands for Changing Actions to Change Habits and celebrates ten years of helping local victims of sex trafficking. Officials say the program has helped more than 500 women since its creation in 2009. 

She also serves as one of the keynote speakers at this week's National PTA Convention & Expo in Columbus.