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Artist Blends Pop Culture References with Psychedelic Soul Music

By Ryan MacDonald

SassyBlack knows how to put on a show.

At a recent concert at the Neptune Theater where she opened for Kate Tempest, she cracked jokes about an ex, performed a poem to Beyoncé, made references to Bobby Brown and N*Sync, and even had a moment where she unpacked her fanny pack and showed off a personal crystal collection.

It’s important and imperative to the story I’m trying to weave and tell to have interaction with the audience,” she explained about her performance style that often sees her chatting and telling personal stories like a stand up comedian.

I really, really, really enjoy telling my cheesy jokes and see people actually like them.”

Throughout her set, she performed songs from her album “No More Weak Dates”, including the fan favorite “Comicon” where she raps about dressing up like a Klingon, and evoked what she calls a “spacey, psychedelic vibe” to entertain the crowd.

Her act is comprised of about “50 percent music, 50 percent comedy” with the goal of providing a context to the audience so they understand “what I’m saying, what I’m getting at, where I’m from.”

This style of performing is something she’s honed over the last few years after studying various types of performance, including acting, hosting, and comedy shows, and draws upon her own background as an actor, poet and writer.

A long time resident of Seattle, SassyBlack, otherwise knows as Catherine Harris-White, began making music with the performance group THEESatisfaction in 2008. After the group decided to go their separate ways in 2016, she embarked on her first solo-headlining tour around the world with shows in Portugal, Spain, Italy and the UK.

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Her music draws inspiration from various artists like Janelle Monae, Chaka Kahn and Herbie Hancock, and her second solo album New Black Swing will be released June 23rd. She says, it’s inspired by the sounds of the new jack swing genre, which can be described in loose terms as the marriage of soul, hip-hop and r + b music.

That’s something that I grew up listening to,” she said, citing Janet Jackson, Shanice and Boys II Men as early creators of the style that she was introduced to by her older brother and father.

For her, the making of this album was all about experimentation and improving her abilities as both a writer and producer.

“I wrote it, I sang it, I rapped it and I’m really excited about it ‘cause I put a lot of effort into it,” she said.

With its release, she hopes to reach more fans who connect with the music on an emotional level.

“Music is always [a] healing process,” she explained. “So I’ve always wanted to do an album that has these sounds.”

If the world tour isn’t enough to keep her busy, SassyBlack will be curating one of the stages at the UpStream Music Festival in May that will feature 300 artists from around the Pacific Northwest who will perform on one of 25 stages set up around Pioneer Square.

The roster of performers and artists she has chosen is made up of local, non-local and up-and-coming musicians, all with different levels of experience and exposure. All of them, she says, have a vision for their careers and a drive to accomplish it.

“The artists I work with and I look for are hardworking, talented folks with a goal in mind and a plan,” she said.

It’s something she enjoys doing because she’s able to provide a network for those who may need some extra assistance getting off the ground and creating a community.

“What I do is I try to do is give them a leg up,” she said. “And then I work my butt off to try and make sure that that’s documented in some format or that someone is introduced to you to help with their strategies to continue to grow.”

She will also be performing a set of her own at the festival where her fans can expect one of her signature performances.

“I just tap into the other side,” she said of her on stage persona, which she considers to be a caricature of who she is in real life. “Cause you’re trying to reach the person in the second balcony. All the way in the back.”

Even as the city evolves with the influx of tech companies bringing new residents and higher paying jobs to the region, SassyBlack is optimistic about new possibilities in coming years, even though some people may disagree.

“There’s a huge opportunity for the arts to be funded by these tech companies in some sort of way and a lot of these companies are thinking about it,” she said about Microsoft, Amazon and other corporations moving into the city.

Through it all, her goal is to support art that uplifts others, so they can create music that inspires the world.

“I’m an advocate for artists and I’m an advocate for humans.”

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