“Stepped in the water and that water was cold
I’m begging river you’ll cover me slow
I’ll tell you secrets you’ll already know

Went to the river and the river it says
Come in my waters let me cleanse your head
If I ever go away check on down by that riverside

River said I know all your woes
I’ve been high and I’ve been low
Bless my soul”

– Kyshona, “The Riverside”

When I say it was raining the night Kyshona came to Memphis, I mean it was raaaaiiiiining. The sky opened up like an overstuffed Kroger bag and didn’t let up. Thundered boomed, roads flooded. It didn’t seem like the ideal setting to welcome a ray of light like Kyshona, and it certainly held back some of guests who planned to be there. Yet from the moment she took the stage, Kyshona filled the room with a safety and warmth that made it seem like everything came together just the way it was supposed to.

There was something about the intimate group that opened Kyshona up, as well. She began the evening talking about her Uncle HT and discovering his songwriting, and that led to stories about how she and her brother found their artistic paths, and then brought us to a rare performance of Kyshona’s ode to her grandmother, “Alma Ree.”

With her background as a music therapist, Kyshona has a deep gift for empathy and seeing the story of others. Working with the incarcerated has honed that gift into a tool that can change hearts. The unjust imprisonment of Cornelius Dupree inspired a song that both expresses the pain and frustration of a wrongful conviction but maintains Kyshona’s hopeful view of the world.

Her hope is contagious, from the youth she works with at Riker’s Island to a bunch of damp Memphians seeking some solace on a dark night. 

When we took a break between sets, I noticed a group of guests talking in the front row. That alone isn’t unusual, of course, but since I knew each of the people in the group, I also knew that they’d been strangers before walking in that night. But there they were, in animated and connected conversation, sharing their own stories and listening to each others’.

This is the vibe Kyshona creates. Her music brings people together, sometimes when they least expect it. It was an honor to welcome her to Memphis and I hope she’ll be back soon, because her constant quest for a stronger, more loving future is right at home here. 

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