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DORiS 8.37 | Janelle Thomas | Embered Soulz | 10.28.21

Updated: Nov 15, 2021


Today on DORiS we sit down with Janelle Thomas. Since our first interview with Janelle back in 2016 she has directed the Salisbury University Gospel Choir, starred as Motor Mouth Maybelle in the hit musical Hairspray and is now a vocalist in the band Embered Soulz which you can hear live at the Art Bar. We discussed growing up with her grandmother and dealing with grief and loss.

All her life that she was going to be a singer. As a child she would sing around the house performing for her friends and family and anyone who would listen. She grew up surrounded by strong women. When reflecting on her grandmother she recalls her small stature against her enormous presence. A reverend and a singer, Thomas says she was her first musical inspiration. The power and emotion of gospel music resonated with her. Outside the genre she'd come to find other inspirations. She studied the rifts of Luther Vandross by playing and replaying a VHS tape of his Live concert in New York City. She'd dance and sing in front of the tv, and she just knew that was what she wanted to do. her grandmother would encourage this often joining in. She'd tell her "Girl you good!" and push her to keep going.

"I come from a BIG family."

Janelle describes the loss of her grandmother as her greatest heartbreak. "She was the first person that made me wanna be a singer.", she says of the late Margaret Brown, but she knows she's watching over her still. Remembering her turns our conversation to depression and how unprecedented it can be in overtaking you. "I was twenty seven.", she recounts, but it was the first time she'd encountered that type of loss. Her grandfather passed when she was much younger so she wasn't able to understand it in the same way. Grief and the handling of it isn't something that is really taught and when it happens to us we are often unprepared. I asked what methods she used to cope with the loss and she answers, "I just kept singing."

As a student she got good grades, to stay in band and choir, where she got to explore her vocal ability and learn new instruments like the saxophone, drums and piano. "My voice is my main instrument, I just also know how to play other instruments.", she says. She began to pull from and blend together different genres applying what she learned in band practice at choir rehearsal and vice versa. She kept at it all throughout her school days. The instruments and genres would shift around but she always sang. This would eventually, as a college student. lead her to the acclaimed Salisbury University Gospel Choir. This is where I first met Janelle.

In 2016 we were both students at Salisbury University and I was in the middle of the first season of DORiS. Janelle was performing in and directing the university's gospel choir and had been making a stir on campus with her impressive arrangements. I hit her up for an interview on DORiS and we've been friends ever since.

At salisbury she got to learn music as well as teach it, with her choir members and now in personal lessons. When we caught up this time around I asked what's something that she's learned from her students. "That not everyone learns the same.", she says. Teaching music has helped her develop new ways of relating to people which has helped her music personally.