Destiny discusses her formative years, Nina Simone, and her responsibility to those who came before her.
ON HER FORMATIVE YEARS
I'm from Holly Springs. It's north Mississippi so I'm really close to Tennessee. I'm like 45 minutes away from Memphis. I was born in Jackson, Mississippi which is the state capitol. When I was around one or two my mom moved us back to Holly Spring so I was basically raised there. For my last two years of high school, I went to the Mississippi School of the Arts which is in Brook Haven so I basically left parents' when I was 15 or 16. I did 11th and 12th grade at that residential school. I'm now in college in North Carolina. I haven't lived at home every day in a long time.
My residential high school was 4 hours away from home. I used to take the train, which was a 6-hour ride. My college is nine or tens hours away so I only come home twice a year so early on, I got used to being on my own compared to others who don't move out until their 18.
It was a really great experience. Of course, I didn't want to go at first because I'd been in Holly Springs all of my life. It's a really small town. My mom would not budge so I figured that I might as well see the glass as half full rather than half empty. I eventually became excited about meeting new people and it was actually a culture shock because my hometown and family are predominately Black. I never really had the opportunity to make friends with anybody besides Black people.
ON HER LOVE FOR NINA SIMONE
I think I'm mostly drawn to her because of her uniqueness. She was really popular in the 60s and usually when you think of the 60s you think of Motown and Aretha Franklin. She doesn't fit into that category. She went further in her classical training than I did because once I moved to my school, I stopped taking lessons. When the opportunity came and she had to adapt to her new living situation she had to adapt and she did that well and even began writing her own songs.
Her voice isn't the prettiest voice but it's very raw. She encourages me because a lot of time we can become our own worst critics and sometimes I can get really frustrated with my music. With her, it's like she just sang whatever was on her heart. If it sounded raspy or what .
I guess that's why people say that representation matters. Her skin was of a darker complexion and that really resonates with me. To have someone that looks like you - has big lips and wears head wraps [before people really started wearing them. I just like that she did her own thing. We have a lot of similarities. Then there's also her stance in the civil rights movement and how her career basically collapsed by being very vocal and writing songs that spoke to that. At the end of the day she wrote music for the people and didn't really care if it sold a record or not she did what she felt was right.
ON CONFIRMING HER CALLING
I did a talent show at a music camp at Mississippi College and I sang a song I wrote called "Grandma". I was major fifteen and after I sang my song, I was the only one who received a standing ovation. I remember my mom was in the crowd videotaping it and she said that when she turned around people were wiping their eyes. I went off stage and I cried to my camp counselors. It was just a release and it was the moment that I realized that was what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life. I'm supposed to get on stage, pour my heart out and let people soak it in.
For some reason, that moment really resonated with me and showed me that I have a gift. It's a gift that was given to me. I believe God gave it to me and it's now something I give to other people. Sometimes a song is what helps you express yourself - even for people who don't sing or write songs. They might not be able to put it into words, but they can hear it. The beauty of music is how anybody can interpret it however and no one is necessarily wrong. That confirmed that I want to write, perform, travel, share my heart with people, and make a living from it.
ON HER SONG "THE SHOULDERS ON WHICH I STAND"
I was watching an episode of United Shades of America where the host goes to the Gullah Island, where a majority of slaves came through that town and how those remaining people have the most preserved African culture than Black people in others parts of the country. The host went on a tour of what would have been slave cabins. Out of the window you could see trees. My mom asked if we could imagine the stories they would tell if they could speak because they've been there for so long. After watching that episode, I cried.
Knowing that 1 in every 50 slaves came through that port and imagining that one of my ancestors probably traveled through there made me so emotional. My mom suggested that I write a song about it. That's how the song came about and that's the first time the line says, "If these trees could speak, I'm sure they would tell of the horrors that they've seen," and the second time says, "...the beauty that they've seen." Slaves were inventors. They basically created techniques that helped their slave owners become more wealthy. It's kind of crazy because they were helping their own slave owners, but it's also really amazing because you don't really think of slaves as being innovative. And even with childbirth. The fact that a mother gave birth to a human being is beautiful, but those children were also born into that horror.
The beauty and the horror are like a double-edged sword.
ON HER RESPONSIBILITY TO HER ANCESTORS
I feel like I have a responsibility. I owe my ancestors. I owe it to these people who were hosed down or who were lynched to sing the truth. I owe it to them to sing the truth no matter who is in the audience. I'm proud and I feel like I have a responsibility to let the world that Black people in this country are beautiful people.
We all stand on these shoulders whether you're Black or White because slaves literally built this country. They built the White House. The United States would not be one of the most wealthy countries if it were not for slave labor. We stand on their shoulders.
Learn more about Destiny Stone.