Reesa Renee, by all accounts, is not supposed to be a soul singer.
The bubbly 24-year-old grew up in Landover, a preacher’s kid. “My life was all about my father pouring into his ministry,” she says. She also had dreams of playing in the WNBA.
But then life happened: after her mother was diagnosed with cancer and two of her best friends were killed in a car accident in 2007, she says she fell into a depression. To cope with the pain, she took to listening to jazz instrumentals produced by her brother and writing poems as a way of “getting all my years of stuff and funk out.” Before she knew it, she was verbalizing her poetry through prayer- and she soon turned those prayers into song lyrics. “It just fell out…” she says of her singing. “I knew…I was supposed to be doing it.”
Now, the years of listening, writing and singing have lead to this moment: her debut album “Ree-lease” is scheduled to drop this summer. It’s a neo-soul mix of original songs and ballads that chronicles her life coming into her own. Her songs “Wonderland Cool” and “Got Me Loose” are available on iTunes.
“My album is going to be exactly that - my journey of discovering my voice, discovering my purpose,” she says. “It’s great to be able to share that with people.”
For Renee, the path to local stardom has been a long journey and family affair. After experimenting with her style in the church choir several years ago, she formed the group “A Chosen Generation”, in 2008. The small ensemble caught the attention of Renee’s brother, Thomas Beale. While he knew he was partly an inspiration for her love of music he marveled at how far she had come. Their close relationship has helped her music career, as he now serves as producer and plays keyboard in her band.
“I’ve been working with people trying to make music [for] a long time, but I feel like she’s my personal, personal artist that I’ve been developing my whole life,” Beale says.
Renee’s road to finding her muse was full of hard work: for months she wrote lyrics back home in Maryland while she juggled a full-time job as a personal trainer. “That was my outlet - that became it,” she says of her songwriting. So she pressed on, turning her feelings into song.
Then, in 2010, things started to turn. As a way to lift her spirits, a friend treated Renee to a makeover and photo session for her birthday. It was a chance for her to see how professional she could really look. “I’ve never done something that serious - and it turned out so well,” she says of tapping into her girlie side. Then a few months later, even as she was still writing her material, she took a gamble: she started performing at small venues in New York as a way of developing her sound.
Her first stop was an open mic night at Village Underground, in downtown Manhattan. By the second time she performed there, the crowd was nodding to her signature song, “Got Me Loose,” she says. “The room was singing the song,” she remembers.
Soon enough she was performing consistently and entering contests, singing the songs that now appear on her album. She impressed the local scene so much that she got an almost one in a life time offer: to compete at the famed Apollo Theater for its ameteur night. As she prepared for what to sing, she had several tense moments It was a tense moment: some of her advisors wanted her to cover a standard. She wanted to sing her own material.
“If I’m gonna go down, I’m gonna go down singing my own stuff,” she recalled thinking at the time. “Go down there - and don’t get booed. I wasn’t even thinking about winning at all.”
She didn’t need to worry - her performance received a standing ovation from the notoriously unimpressed New York crowd and she walked away a winner. The experience has given her newfound confidence. “I had to turn my back to everybody,” Renee says of her emotional reaction.
Even with the upward artistic path she is on, Renee is still reluctant to fully classify herself as a singer, and realizes she has a long way to go. “I still need to learn things. I’m still feeling it out, and to be able to prove to myself that me following that little inclination - having such a big accomplishment like that was completely unreal.”
“That’s when I got my confidence.”