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You just might be laboring under the misapprehension that rising star Fatima Washington doesn’t live here anymore. In fact, the young R&B singer is still a resident of Fort Wayne, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to catch her act now that urban centers like Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Lexington are demanding more and more of her attention. And there’s a good chance that, in the wake of the release of her stunning full-length debut, A Part of Me, we could be seeing even less of her in the future.
It’s the bittersweet side to life in Fort Wayne. This is a town that loves its music and embraces its musicians, but local fans also understand that many of their favorite bands and artists will eventually flee the small pond for something larger, and Washington is definitely a diva on the brink of a big break.
The possibility that Washington could be seeking a life under brighter lights in a bigger city is just one reason to check her out when she opens for Jagged Edge at Piere’s Friday, February 10. But really, do you need a reason beyond (a) that classically trained voice and (b) those infectious, clever lyrics that bring together the best elements of hip-hop and R&B for one irresistible, completely danceable sound? Methinks not.
In a recent phone conversation, Washington said she’s grateful to have gotten her start in Fort Wayne because it allowed her to both fail and excel on her own terms.
“I got to get my feet wet in a place where people care about me,” she said. “I feel lucky because people would tell me nicely if maybe I shouldn’t sing a certain song again or try that move. It’s not like I was ever booed off stage here if I mess up like I might have been in New York or L.A., and I’ve had the chance to build my confidence and discover who I am as an artist in an honest way without someone trying to change me to make me ‘more marketable.’”
Artistic growth is a key component of A Part of Me, a 12-tracker that includes not only new songs but also ones she wrote when she was just cutting her teeth. It might not be obvious to the listener (it wasn’t to me), but Washington can easily distinguish between those songs that showcase a growing confidence in her own abilities and those that clearly display some of the trappings of youth.
“When I first started writing for the project I was kind of feeling my way through life,” she said. “I was really just finding my footing and that’s clear in songs like ‘Melt Away,’ and ‘Promise’ where you can tell they’re about figuring out what I needed, where I was going. You can kind of hear how ‘Melt Away’ feels very young, very timid. And then there’s something like ‘Please,’ which is very sassy. It’s like, ‘I know what I’ve got. I know what you want, and this is how you’re going to get it.’”
Washington had good reason to be a little bit cocky at the end. After all, she survived a computer crash and a robbery that erased much of her early recording work. With the help of her friend and producer DJ Polaris she rerecorded the vocal tracks from scratch and re-imagined the music from mere sketches. And now, four years and countless hours of hard work later, she has a product she can be proud of, not to mention an experience she can look back on and draw lessons from.
“It was really, really crazy, and I wondered if maybe these were huge red flags going up to tell me to go and get a master’s degree and be done with it,” she said, “but my friends and family were so supportive. They encouraged me to keep going and I’m glad I did.”
One of those supportive friends was local R&B standout Ty Causey, who watched with interest while Washington found her voice as part of the Voices of Unity and Snyder High School choirs, as well a national, classical choir that traveled the world. Causey kept in touch with Washington’s mother while she performed all over Europe and also during the four years she pursued a psychology degree at Emory University. Then, when she returned home to Fort Wayne, Washington went to the Blu Tomato to watch Causey perform, and, even though it took a while, he eventually coaxed her out of her corner and up on stage. That led to a regular gig at the Blu Tomato and other hot spots around town.
“Ty basically said, ‘I’m taking you with me.’ He pushed me to be better. I remember him coming up to me at the Blu Tomato and laughing at me. He was like, ‘Why are you sitting in that corner? You look like someone’s going to bite you.’ He taught me that I could do more, that I really had it in me.”
Washington, who snagged three Whammy nominations this year, has clearly come a long way, baby. She’s gone from being a shy, anxious wallflower and a preteen performing in school talent shows to the leader of her own band. Now when you see Washington perform she’s often accompanied by Chris (Drake) Bates on bass, Kimble Glasby on drums, a cache of backup singers, including Trinell Armour, Stefan Phillips, Albert Brownlee, Prentis Moore and Dominica Malone, and DJs Trend and Polaris.
When Washington talks about her band, it’s clear that she’s struck gold.
“This last year so many things have come together in such a beautiful way,” she said. “For a while I was struggling to keep a band together, but now I’ve found a network of people who believe in me as an artist. We’re friends. That’s what makes it work. Being on stage and performing is like being at a family dinner.”
If you cannot catch Washington when she opens for Jagged Edge February 10, you can hear her at the 12th Annual Whammy Awards Show, also at Piere’s, on March 1 when she performs a 20-minute set with her band.