Jazz singer-songwriter, entrepreneur, and educator Michele Thomas is a suave innovator. With silken grace she eases in her formative background in gospel, and her love of R&B, soul, and neo-soul, into a musical language that shows a dedication and a passion for jazz, spanning all of its defining eras. Michele’s restless creativity reflects jazz’s improvisatory spirit—for jazz, like life, is a journey and not a destination.
“Art should be something that is life-affirming for the artist and help them reach their highest potential through expressing themselves freely,” Michele shares. “It should be risky, vulnerable, and done with love and authenticity.”
Today, the Chicago, Illinois-based artist announces her third album, The Assumption. This special album is her first release to feature originals alongside imaginatively-arranged jazz chestnuts done in Michele’s unmistakable way—it also boasts one “very Michele” surprise cover. The Assumption was successfully financed by an outpouring of community love from Michele’s first ever crowdfunding campaign.
Michele has garnered favorable comparisons to powerful African-American singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, and Anita Baker, but she also draws inspiration from composer-artists like Kurt Elling, Jon Hendricks, James Taylor, and Sting. She has earned the praise of Warner Bros. recording artist Kevin Mahogany, and Grammy Award-winning jazz artist Yusef Lateef who commented, “(She) has her own vocal sound, which is beautiful by the Grace of God.”
Michele’s transformative story is how music has been the catalyst enabling her to embrace her true self. “I grew up a people pleaser, but art and music really made me dig deeper. I had to make big decisions to be who I am, find my voice, and be vulnerable.” Part of those big decisions was breaking away from her family traditions through exploring jazz. Michele was born the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher in the Church of God In Christ, and, in her home, jazz—and other non-gospel music—was considered the “Devil’s music.”
She was already an impressive musician when she heard jazz at the age of 15. She grew up singing in church, and evolved into an accomplished choir conductor and arranger while still in her early teenage years. During high school, the shy but determined music obsessive worked up the gumption to join her high school jazz band, and there she was introduced to jazz via the recordings of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. Particularly, her scat singing mesmerized Michele and she would incorporate that into her own aesthetic.