Jazz Fest Minutes: Johnette Downing's Call To Perform

Apr 18, 2013

Singer-songwriter Johnette Downing.

Johnette Downing is an award-winning singer and songwriter of music for kids. A New Orleans native, and the daughter of musical parents, Downing felt the call to perform since she was in kindergarten.

“In fact, my first performance I was in kindergarten,” Downing said. “I sang in the school play. And I was very shy, and the teacher thought, ‘Well, there’s no way this child is going to get up and sing.’ So she called my mother, she said, ‘She wanted to be the lead,’ and my mother said, ‘She’ll do it, she can do it.’ And I did. I was really shy, but I could sing in front of a whole audience.”

Downing said her parents exposed their kids to music at an early age because they loved music so much.

“They would bring us down to the French Quarter and we would stand in the doorways of jazz clubs and listen to Dixieland Jazz,” she said. “I mean, we’re so fortunate to live in Louisiana and have all this music right here in our front yard.”

Around the seventh grade Downing wanted a guitar, so her parents bought her one. She says she just taught herself.

“I was in a folk band, a new age band, a country band, a rock band, jazz band, western swing — all different types of music,” she said. “And my music still reflects that today. It has influences of Zydeco and Cajun-Creole, jazz, Caribbean and blues.”

Johnette Downing and harmonica man Scott Billington play the kids’ tent at Jazz Fest Sunday, April 28.