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Alicia Olatuja: A Singer First

Inside the versatile vocal mastery of Alicia Olatuja

Alicia Olatuja in performance at the 2017 Monterey Jazz Festival (photo by Tomas Ovalle c/o the Monterey Jazz Festival)
Alicia Olatuja in performance at the 2017 Monterey Jazz Festival (photo by Tomas Ovalle c/o the Monterey Jazz Festival)

Millions of people heard Alicia Olatuja on the televised Washington D.C. concert celebrating Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration in 2013, when the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir featured her on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But the course of her career changed because one particular pair of ears happened to hear that glorious performance. Dianne Reeves was so impressed with Olatuja’s voice that she emailed pianist Billy Childs a link to the performance, writing, “You should hear this girl, she can really sing!”

“At the time, I had nothing I needed a singer for,” says Childs, whose close friendship and creative alliance with Reeves dates back some four decades. “But Dianne often refers me to things that really catch her ears, and when I was looking for a vocalist to join Becca Stevens for my Laura Nyro project tour, I thought about Alicia. A lot of promoters were looking for a big star, and she wasn’t a big star then, but her pitch and intonation and expressiveness were really on point. I knew her voice would be perfect.”

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