How Low Can You Go?

Blues singer triumphs over a totally messed-up childhood.

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If Janiva Magness hadn’t sneaked into a Minneapolis juke joint when she was 14 years old, she’s certain she never would have become the award-winning blues singer she is today. Magness first heard legendary bluesman Otis Rush on that fateful day 36 years ago. “This man sang every note as if his life depended on it,” she recalls. “There was complete and total desperation. I even remember seeing how he sweat. I was riveted in a way that still affects me.”

The Detroit native recently released her seventh CD, Do I Move You?, which chronicles her troubled and turbulent teens. Both of her parents killed themselves with sleeping pills when she was young. By the time she was 14, Magness was a drunk, drug-addicted runaway who had bounced around a dozen different foster homes. Because of those experiences, she now serves as spokeswoman for May’s National Foster Care Month. “I spent a lot of years cursing and shaking my fist,” she says. “Finally, there’s a purpose: to hold the light for these other kids who’ve been through what I’ve been through.” Magness says her determination got her through all the hard times. It’s paid off. Earlier this year, she snagged her second straight female-vocalist honor from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. “The award is the ring, the bar, the benchmark I reach for,” she says.
Tue., Aug. 14, 10:30 p.m.

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