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Alicia Olatuja Highlights The Instinct And Intellect Of Female Songwriters

Alicia Olatuja
Deneka Peniston

Singer, composer and arranger Alicia Olatuja first entered the national spotlight in 2013 as featured soloist with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. John Floridis caught up with Olatuja to talk about her second recording, Intuition: Songs From The Minds Of Women.

Olatuja's new album interprets songs written by Brenda Russell, Sade, Tracy Chapman, Kate Bush, Angela Bofill and Linda Creed with what Downbeat Magazine describes as her "full-bodied tone, precise pitch and personal engagement at the lowest whisper or highest wail."

“When we hear the word ‘intuition’ we think of a woman's intuition, that inner, gut-instinct thing that goes beyond mere information,” says Olatuja of the album’s title concept. “There is something powerful and beautiful and something to be celebrated in that. The subtitle "From the Minds of Women" reminds people that we're not just intuitive, emotional beings. We are intellectual as well. We do know how to connect the emotional and the rational. And when we do that, especially through our work, beautiful and unimaginably creative things are made.”

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Olatuja grew up immersed in a wide range of musical styles, including gospel, soul, jazz and classical. She graduated with a master’s degree in classical voice/opera from the Manhattan School of Music. After appearing in numerous operatic and musical theater productions, Olatuja started to perform regularly in gospel and jazz concerts with Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Christian McBride. In 2014, she came to the attention of composer/arranger/pianist Billy Childs, and was brought on to be part of the touring incarnation of “Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro” alongside vocalist Becca Stevens. Olatuja is one of three featured vocalists on the Jazz at Lincoln Center-commissioned project, “Songs of Freedom,” joining Theo Bleckmann and Dee Dee Bridgewater in exploring the works of Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, and Abbey Lincoln.

(Broadcast: Musician's Spotlight,  11/5/19. Listen on the radio Tuesdays, 7 p.m., or via podcast.)

John Floridis, the host and producer of Musician's Spotlight, has been with Montana Public Radio since 1997. He has interviewed over 200 musicians during that time. He is also an independent recording and performing artist in his own right and a former registered music therapist.
Beth Anne Austein has been spinning tunes on the air (The Folk Show, Dancing With Tradition, Freeforms), as well as recording, editing and mixing audio for Montana Public Radio and Montana PBS, since the Clinton Administration. She’s jockeyed faders or "fixed it in post” for The Plant Detective; Listeners Bookstall; Fieldnotes; Musicians Spotlight; The Write Question; Storycorps; Selected Shorts; Bill Raoul’s music series; orchestral and chamber concerts; lecture series; news interviews; and outside producers’ programs about topics ranging from philosophy to ticks.
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