Life can change in the blink of an eye. In the wake of her own personal tragedy, Emma Jo’s one-of-a-kind sound has been a source of therapy and inspiration these days to many who listen. Fueled by raw emotion and lyrics that come straight from the heart, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t touched or encouraged by the award-winning singer’s music.
“When people hear my music, I hope they smile. I hope they cry. I hope my songs give them hope,” states the Kansas City native. “I want my songs to travel through people’s lives with them, and I hope they change meaning over time.”
Her sound often described as “folkabilly” or “vintage soul country,” Emma’s music is in a constant state of evolution—much like her life. The singer’s latest album is a shining light in a world that can sometimes feel incredibly dark. In early 2018, she released her highly anticipated fifth-studio album titled Brave, a record shaped by grief, heartache, growth and perseverance following the tragic suicide of her father just six months prior.
“Brave, which is also a single on the album, is pretty much the soundtrack of my life right now,” she says. “I’ve been through some really hard times, especially in the last few years, but I’m very self-aware and remain a persistent person.”
Her latest album is filled with 11 captivating songs that chronicle Emma’s personal exploration of love, loss, vulnerability and strength. It’s folkabilly at its finest. The album’s debut single, Your Story Isn’t Over Yet, reached viral status after its release on social media. Written in memory of her father who battled depression, Emma Jo’s performance of the song on Facebook has been watched by nearly 40,000 people and counting.
“His story isn’t over, even if his time on this earth is. I will carry his legacy with me wherever I go,” stated Emma. “This song is also for people like me – survivors of suicide loss. Perhaps a much-needed reminder that our story isn’t over yet, either. For anyone out there who’s feeling depressed, or like you may want to harm yourself, please hear me when I say that THERE IS MORE TO YOUR STORY. There’s more to come. Things can and will get better!”
Always one to pour her heart and soul into her music, the country-folk singer is no novice to the music scene. She has been performing in front of large audiences since the tender age of four and writing her own music since the age of 11. An old soul at heart, Emma grew up in Missouri listening to Motown, classic country and early rock ‘n’ roll. However, it wasn’t until she attended her first Bruce Springsteen concert with her dad in 2002 that she decided to go pro.
“At that moment, my world flipped upside down. I knew that I wanted to not only write my own songs and perform, but I wanted to create music that would find its way into people’s lives and hearts,” stressed Emma. “When writing songs, I’ve always been inspired by the people and events around me. And now as an adult, I also have a greater depth of emotional experiences in my own life to draw upon.”
Often compared to superstar musicians like Jewel, Emmylou Harris and Brandi Carlisle, Emma was just 15 years old when she released her first solo record, Waiting to be Heard, in 2007. Music reviewer Chip Withrow described the then-newcomer’s debut album as “a brave, bold statement; with just her voice and guitar, she show her talent her potential.”
“When I started making my own music and writing songs, my dad bought me an acoustic guitar that I named Patti. Eventually I took a few lessons and learned to strum some cords,” recalls the talented singer. “It was liberating. My songs became more complete. It was pivotal for me and helped me begin to find my identity as a songwriter and singer.”
Following the release of Waiting to be Heard, Emma upped the ante on her music career by forming a band and serving as lead singer. For the next six years, she performed alongside her band under various names, including Emma Jo and the Poets Down Here, the Poets Down Here, and (most notably) 49 Stones. The group released three full-length albums: Here it Comes (Emma Jo & the Poets Down Here, 2008), The Indigo Sessions (Emma Jo & the Poets Down Here, 2009) and Turn it On (49 Stones, 2012). It was the band’s last album that earned Emma a nomination for best vocalist, artist of the year and winner for best duet at the 2011 Project Backstage Midwest Music Awards. It also earned Emma rave reviews from music critics.
“Emma effortlessly shifts from hypnotic near-whispers to face-melting outbursts without losing a note. She unleashes expressive power vocals with big league status… She’s clearly in control and confident in her delivery,” Present Magazine’s Pete Dulin wrote following a review of Turn it On.
Emma Jo briefly put her music career on hold and parted ways with the band in 2013 to pursue higher education. She went on to earn a degree in history at Rockhurst University and graduated summa cum laude. Possessing more than just a pretty voice, Emma is clearly one smart chick, too.
“People only know me as a historian are always genuinely shocked when they find out I’m a musician,” she laughs. “I’ve tried to marry my two ‘sides’ by bringing in history stuff when I perform. I always tell backstories about songs, artists and genres I play.”
With degree now in hand, Emma couldn’t stay away from making music for long. Back to performing once again as a solo artist (while pursuing a master’s degree), Emma’s beautiful blend of country, rockabilly, and folk continues to resonate with audiences of all ages as she effortlessly merges the sounds of the past with the present.