Valerie Troutt Has Many Sides
Troutt sees her music as a vehicle for communal celebration and spiritual sustenance more than a forum for personal charisma.
Vocalist, bandleader, compser, and activist: Valerie Troutt is one versatile and talented artist.
Photo by Clara Rice
For Oakland vocalist Valerie Troutt, music isn’t merely a matter of self-expression. She has spent decades honing her sumptuous sound, acquiring a full-spectrum palette of African-American idioms, encompassing spirituals, gospel, jazz, soul, and R&B. While she can occupy the spotlight with welcoming authority as a solo artist, Troutt sees her music as a vehicle for communal celebration and spiritual sustenance more than a forum for personal charisma. A bandleader, composer, and activist, she deploys songs as part of a larger creative toolkit acquired for resistance and unapologetic visibility, and these days her primary outlet is the soul-steeped ensemble MoonCandy, which performs June 22 at the Oakland Museum of California.
The group, which usually features a cast of 10 to 12 musicians, released the four-song EP The Struggle Is Real: Walk Together Children in 2016 and is in the midst of completing a full-length album.
The Friday Nights @ OMCA performance kicks off a summer of activity for the ensemble and offers a preview of the group’s new material. No recording, however, is going to capture MoonCandy’s embracing vibe, a slow-burning ecstasy that emanates from the lapidary vocal harmonies, call-and-response cadences, and irresistible grooves.
“Our philosophy is to dance for love,” said Troutt, who spent several years performing in Linda Tillery’s celebrated Cultural Heritage Choir. “The dance floor is our universal synagogue, and we welcome everyone to come and lay their burden down. It’s all about freedom and the right to live and choose and love.”
It’s a philosophy that frames and informs an event she’s producing at Yoshi’s with the Queer Cultural Center of San Francisco on June 18, They Wore Love and Resistance: Songs of Truth, Freedom, and Justice. Presiding over the program as emcee rather than a performer, Troutt has designed an evening of music dedicated to queer artists working in an array of styles, including jazz, folk, soul, and world music.
The lineup features the fabulous East Bay funk/soul singer Tory Teasley, “who’s like water; he can go into any genre like a Nina Simone character, but with a funk slap,” Troutt said. “He can be very androgynous, giving this very different feel for what you think a jazz and funk singer can be.”
Describing the lineup as a showcase for “resilient” artists, Troutt is also featuring fellow Cultural Heritage Choir alum Melanie DeMore, folky Oakland singer/songwriter Blackberri, the phenomenal jazz vocalist Stephanie Crawford. Pianist Tammy Hall, one of the region’s most sought after accompanists, leads the house band.
“I’ve been thinking for a long time about how can we showcase some of our stellar queer community out there doing this work,” Troutt said. “Do people even know they’re queer? The first time I met Stephanie Crawford was when photographer James Knox introduced us after an amazing show at the Jazzschool. She handed me a CD and turned it over where there was a photo of a little boy sitting in a rocking chair. She said, ‘I’ve got stories to tell.’ Wow. That was the introduction to her sharing with me about being trans. She had this whole fabulous career in Paris, and she’s living in the Bay Area. People need to know about her.”
Sharing the spotlight and spreading the love, Valerie Troutt is keeping the music real (fabulous).
They Wore Love and Resistance: Songs of Truth, Freedom, and Justice, June 18, 8 p.m.,Yoshi’s; Valerie Troutt and MoonCandy, June 22, 7-9 p.m. Oakland Museum of California, Oakland.