A career built on the work ethic she learned at home in Tennessee
Valerie June makes quite the first impression with her stunningly unique voice and fascinating dreadlocks that seem to defy gravity as they travel in multiple directions atop and around her head.
Once she has your attention, however, you realize it’s the songs that are the heart of her appeal. June tells tales of family, love, strife, work, nature and spirituality in a style she slyly dubs “Organic Moonshine Roots Music,” because everything has to have a genre, right?
The Tennessee native played the MidPoint Music Festival in 2017, just seven months after a rollicking night at the Southgate House Revival, which was just before the release of “The Order of Time,” her second album that has been a fixture on the year’s Top 10 lists.
“I’m feeling very grateful, but there’s a long way to go,” June says. “In the towns I’ve been to before (the crowds are bigger), yes. In the places I’ve never been to, it’s a building process.”
June is familiar with the building process. She grew up working alongside her father, who owned a construction and demolition company. She learned that art isn’t limited to the art world.
“The work that my father did with his company was an art,” she says of the man who died last year at 63. “Being able to run a business through all the obstacles he faced as an African-American business owner in the South, all the things he juggled, all the things he saw, that was his art
“I used to be a maid years ago. I think about all the jobs that people have and take pride in their jobs. It is your craft. Whatever dreams you have and where you want to go, that’s one thing. But where you are today, what you put your life energy into, is your craft. People have their own art, their own craft, in their own way.
Luckily for people who appreciate music, June switched career paths. But the lessons she learned on those job sites have come in handy as more people have discovered her
“I’ve had a nice, smooth, rocky, gentle, hard journey,” she laughs. “But I feel like I’m guided, it’s A-OK. If I was younger and didn’t have the foundation of my past like I do, then maybe it would be harder.
“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been on the journey toward a dream for a long time. I think people who rise fast, it’s harder for them.”
One of June’s dreams was to take her father on the road, but it wasn’t to be. However, he did sing on “Shakedown,” one of the outstanding tunes on “The Order or Time.” That helps keep her connected.
“He was excited about that,” she says. “It makes me sad thinking about (taking him on the road), but I had so many great things that I could share with him. And I still dream about him, those don’t go away.”
If her father speaks to his daughter in those dreams, he surely tells her he’s proud. Of her success, of course, but more than that for working as hard as she did by his side in the hot Tennessee sun.
Valerie June performing on NPR’s Tiny Music Desk.