R&B singer Charity makes music for Detroit, in Detroit

Charity. Courtesy of the artist

A lot has changed since alternative R&B singer Charity, born Charity Ward, first picked up the guitar at 13 years old under the tutelage of a folk guitar teacher who introduced her to the work of India Arie. At first, Charity's work called to mind that of Arie's — inspirational, encouraging, and upbeat.

Since then, Charity's evolved from folk songs and inspiration to an alternative R&B space fused with influences from folk, gospel, pop, and trap music.

"You're hearing that I was raised in church," she says. "You're hearing gospel [in] there. You're hearing a lot of different corners of my musical upbringing coming to the center, and sometimes it's hard to say what it is."

But this doesn't stop the genre-bending artist from forging her own path in the music industry. As a young songstress, Charity often found herself performing at talent shows and small gigs around the city of Detroit. The response from these performances is one of the influences that solidified singing and songwriting as her "calling."

"[My guitar teacher] said to my mom one day, 'Charity is not just going to sing, she's going to sing!'" she recalls.

In college, Charity relocated to Tennessee to attend Tennessee State University, where she studied music full time and continued performing on stages around town.

It wasn't until her sophomore year of college that she decided to take a break from higher education to pursue her passion full-time back in Detroit. So she hopped on a plane, flew back to the Motor City, and connected with Drake Phifer of Urban Organic Lifestyle Marketing, LLC.

"[Phifer] is a trailblazer ... in terms of bringing R&B and neo-soul acts to the city and providing opening slots and performance opportunities for Detroit artists to share stages with them," says Charity. "Drake was so instrumental in me creating a name and a reputation in Detroit."

The next few years consisted of performance after performance with R&B legends like Eric Roberson, Angie Stone, Eric Benét, and Lalah Hathaway. After some time performing in the big leagues, she decided to go back and finish her degree. But Charity says she felt frustrated with how little space she felt there was for a girl like her to play.

"In Nashville, with a guitar in hand, it kind of seemed like you had to be in these certain spaces I didn't want to be boxed into," Charity says. "So, I wasn't extremely productive when I was there, and I was always fighting people about Detroit. I was always defending Detroit to the point that I was ready to scratch somebody's eyes out over it. I realized that was kind of coming from this overcompensation of me feeling this guilt of 'I'm supposed to be in Detroit.'"

Charity came back with intentions of creating music for Detroit, in Detroit. Three years, an EP, and two singles later, Charity resides on Detroit's west side, preparing for a busy fall season as she plans to release a brand-new single, visuals, and a new album. But it hasn't been easy for a millennial musician making music in Detroit.

"I kind of came back with this thought that Detroit is this wide open lane," Charity says. "But Detroit, like many other Black cities, is under-resourced. So, in the same way that we see our school system and our students struggling because there's a lack of resources, the same way that there are less grocery stores in our communities, there's less to work with as an artist. There's less venues, there's less shows, there's less managers, there's less booking agents. So, that's a space you have to navigate and be creative about."

But obstacles didn't stop this millennial from producing songs that embody her own experience. In fact, they only provided lyrical inspiration for her track, "Millennials."

"My student loans bout fifty racks now/ And I consider moving packs now," she sings. "I heard the niggas flexing hard on the internet/ minimum wages, missing payments, living check to check/ I still got this dream/ silly me/ I thought I'd be on by 21/ the economy don't fuck with me/ but I know I ain't the only one."

Driving the power behind these relatable lyrics is the rasp of an organ with familiar gospel tones and drums.

"My dad is a preacher and my mom is a devout woman of faith, so I grew up in church," Charity says. "I grew up in a missionary baptist church, and so there's some very purist gospel music traditional themes that you hear in the music, like the organ. I try to infuse my work with that where it fits best."

Other songs, like "Black Magic," are a celebration of Blackness, which is funky with a pop structure: an affirmation that regardless of what anyone tells you, you're magic. Coming in the fall is a brand-new single called "More Cake" that talks about how there's more cake than wedding cake — how there's more to aspire to, there's more to celebrate, there's more to base your worth on than a man wanting to marry you.

"It challenges how we really don't celebrate any woman's accomplishment as much as we do, that doggone engagement ring," says Charity.

Visuals for "More Cake" will debut after the single's initial release date Sept. 13, and the long-awaited Tender Headed EP is due to release in October.

"I couldn't be more excited to finally put the entire body of work out and talk about that and everyone have access to that," Charity says. "My hope is that the music and the quality of the music and the conversation that it creates turns into a great deal of media and performance opportunities in Detroit — ultimately, on a national and international scale."

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