Ayanna Witter-Johnson is THE definition of eclectic soul, she is a singer, songwriter, cellist who is a rare exception to the rule that classical and alternative R&B music cannot successfully coexist.
This is down to her musical prowess, mesmerising vocals, uncompromising lyrics and mastery for reinterpreting songs on her cello.
The British-born musician graduated from London’s prestigious Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and New York’s Manhattan School of Music with firsts. Since releasing her EPs Truthfully and Black Panther in 2011, Ayanna has extensively toured the UK and Europe, composed for The Planets, gaining a MOBO award nomination along the way.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m Ayanna Witter-Johnson. I’m a singer/songwriter, cellist, pianist, composer and dancer. I studied composition at both Trinity Laban and the Manhattan School of Music and become the only non-American to win the legendary Amateur Night Live at the Apollo Theater in New York. I record and release original music, perform solo and with my band at various venues, concert halls and festivals around the world as well as compose and arrange for orchestras and dance companies.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Surprisingly no at the beginning. From the age of 4, I’d been engaged with music and my career has been an organic unfolding of each event leading to another and creating opportunities for me to grow and develop my art to such a level that I found myself working professionally once I had finished my official studies. However I do now have quite clear goals with regards to career development and as ever, things change and unexpected opportunities come up that shift my perspective all the time in an inspiring way.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Absolutely. I’m constantly being stereotyped as to what type of artist I am based on how I look and the instrument I play. The pre-conceptions are exhausting but my purpose for doing what I do is stronger than those distractions so I approach each situation with grace and keep it moving.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Founding my own record label – Hill and Gully Records and releasing my debut album ‘Road Runner’ through it.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Believing that I have something valuable to express and share with others.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is incredibly important and I have mentored several young musicians along my journey. Every relationship is unique and both parties often benefit hugely from learning from one another’s journeys.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Execute on your dreams so you can be someone else’s role model.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Follow your gut and don’t be afraid to carve your own pathway.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
At this stage in my career I hope to develop as a collaborator and combine my music three-dimensionally with artists from different disciplines – visual, theatre and dance.