Houston Texan Annika Chambers is a rare old school blues and soul singer in her early 30s. During two tours of duty in the U.S. Army, including Iraq, Chambers started to reach a wider public when a colonel heard her singing gospel and asked her to do the National Anthem. She then brought her big voice to the blues playing Army base shows and finally debuting in 2015 with the CD Making My Mark. We caught up with Annika the morning after a triumphant late night show in Butte Montana 2018. Annika told us that her parents were young teens and took us back to her own youth raised by grandma.
Annika Chambers: My grandmother had me in church very very very young so that’s when I realized I had this thing for music, but I led my first church song when I was fifteen, and I was so nervous that I didn’t do so well. And so I didn’t sing another song until I started singing the blues and started singing away from church when I was in the Army. When you do deploy, you’ve got to find things that you like to do so they had this gospel choir, and we just kind of got a group of us to start singing, singing all these old church songs. They had a talent competition, and I love Mahalia Jackson’s “Precious Lord.” But I said, “Let’s do ‘Precious Lord’ like how Sister Act would do ‘Precious Lord.’” And so we did that, and we won. The military taught me that I really have a gift for entertaining. After that night, this guitar player came up to me, and he said, “I heard your voice, and I think you would really dig the blues.” I said, “Okay.” I didn’t really know anything about the blues, so he said, “I’m gonna teach you your first blues song.” And he taught me Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man.” And so the next talent show, I sang Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Me Like a Man,” and they went crazy.
Nick Spitzer: I’ve followed over the years the classic blues women of the ‘20s who really were breakout artists. The women were at one level called an empress or a queen, and they were given this sort of high level of dignity and accord, and on the other side of it, they were considered temptresses. Just seeing you perform, you seem to have gotten that in your own way.
AC: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to kind of mix kind of the modern day woman with the old blues woman, you know, and women nowadays have to–we really have to be kind of strong and speak up for ourselves and do all that, but we also can do it in a classy manner. I feel like I’m like the modern day Bessie Smith in soul and voice and in sexuality and femininity. You just have this thing about you–I had a woman ask me over the weekend how am I so confident. And I said, “Well, you just learn to love yourself for who you are.” And so yeah, modern day Bessie Smith. That’s who I’m channeling.
NS: Well you mentioned Mahalia Jackson when you were working on your church stuff. It seems like Mahalia is sort of the gospel queen. You still like gospel and Mahalia?
AC: Oh I love her. It’s my roots, so from Mahalia, Aretha, Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar, I mean that’s where I found my voice.
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