Welcome to Artists Who Inspire! This newly-launched social media series features phenomenal artists who embody Levitt’s core value of inclusivity—that music is for everyone, for people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and gender identities. These artists use their platforms for social good and to raise awareness. Scroll down to learn more about the artists spotlighted thus far, and stay tuned for more on our Facebook and Instagram!
Big Freedia, also known as “Queen of the New Orleans Bounce” and as “Queen Diva,” is a fierce and fabulous rapper and hip-hop artist who performed at Levitt AMP Chattanooga in 2018 and has appeared on numerous high profile projects, including Beyoncé’s GRAMMY-winning, “Formation,” and on Drake’s “Nice For What.” Big Freedia brings her distinctive voice and signature catchphrases to everything she touches, including to build awareness of social causes. As an openly gay artist of color, Big Freedia is a loud and proud advocate for racial and gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights.
International rock n’ roll band, Making Movies has brought their high-energy, catchy tunes to multiple Levitt venues and AMP communities, and are known for their Latinx activism. To honor the Black, Indigenous, Immigrant, and Latino voices of American music, Making Movies created the annual music festival, Celebrate Amerikana, shining a light on the diversity of the American music experience, and which we are proud to support!
Internationally-acclaimed Latinx pop artist, Gina Chavez is a native of Austin, Texas. Chavez’s powerful vocals and lush melodies have captivated audiences at Levitt Pavilion Arlington, Levitt Pavilion Dayton, Levitt Shell Sioux Falls, and Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks. A women’s rights activist, Chavez co-founded the college fund, Niñas Arriba, with her wife for young women in El Salvador. As believers in education access for all people, we commend Gina and her wife’s efforts to make this a possibility for numerous El Salvadoran young women. A brilliant artist and activist, Gina Lopez truly is La Que Manda, “The Woman in Charge.”
Frank Waln or Oyate Teca Obami (“Walks with Young People”) is a Sicangu Lakota rapper and activist who grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He is an avid supporter of Dream Warriors, a project that provides scholarships to Native Americans studying music, and he works with organizations across the country to authentically engage with Native communities. At the 2023 Levitt National Convening, Waln shared powerful reflections on his lived experience and a moving performance with the Levitt network. This summer, Frank will be performing at Levitt Shell Sioux Falls and Levitt Pavilion Denver.
Hailing from Kearny, Nebraska, Brody Ray brings a captivating energy to the stage, drawing in music goers with his rich vocals and moving lyrics. Though assigned female at birth, Ray always knew that deep down, this label didn’t fit who he was. Ray shared his journey of transitioning to male on season 13 of America’s Got Talent, earning him a standing ovation from the audience. Playing at multiple, packed Pride festivals, including Levitt Shell Sioux Falls in 2022, Ray shines, inspiring those around him to be true to themselves.
Grace Kelly is an acclaimed musician who strives to make an impact both on and off the stage. In addition to being a phenomenal saxophonist, singer and songwriter, she has partnered with and written a song for She’s the First, a nonprofit that works with grassroots organizations around the world, supporting girls’ access to education. Kelly’s love of education extends to her own innovative Saxy School, an online saxophone school that has inspired thousands of students to become more confident players. At the 2023 Levitt National Convening, Kelly lit up the stage with an incredible performance that she carried out into the audience and will be bringing that same energy to Levitt AMP Sheboygan this summer.
Blind Boys of Alabama
As the 2018 Levitt National Tour artist along with Paul Thorn, Blind Boys of Alabama dazzled Levitt audiences with their blend of early jubilee gospel with fervent modern-day improvisations. A group of vision-impaired singers founded in 1939, the odds for commercial success were historically stacked against them. They toured the South throughout the Jim Crow era, coming up in music during a time of whites-only venues, bathrooms, restaurants, and hotels. Yet, they persevered and became celebrated not just for their exceptional artistry, but also for their dedication to civil rights and inspiring others with disabilities. In the 1960s, the group sang at benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and were a part of the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement. Today we celebrate Blind Boys of Alabama for being, truly, Artists Who Inspire!
This week, we’re spotlighting Alfred Banks as our Artist Who Inspires. The New Orleans-based rapper is known for his perceptive lyrics that both engage and give hope to his fans. Banks will be bringing his impactful music to the Levitt stage this summer when he performs at Levitt AMP Baton Rouge. His 2017 album, The Beautiful, details the mental health battle that his brother, Orlandas, waged with schizophrenia. Tragically, in 2014, Orlandas took his own life–changing the musician’s world forever. His lyrics offer solace and remind listeners that they are not alone. The album has been embraced by the National Alliance on Mental Illness—where Banks now serves as an ambassador.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is GRAMMY-nominated blues songwriter and singer Ruthie Foster! The Texas native has performed at multiple Levitt venues, bringing her soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics to Levitt lawns across the country. Her latest album, Healing Time, has been described as providing “a guide for how to move through the world with equal parts compassion and resolve.” Foster has also lent her talents to great causes—such as emceeing for the Folk Alliance International awards, an arts nonprofit dedicated to preserving the folk genre and ensuring it remains an inclusive space for all. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Foster has performed at Carnegie Hall and in 2018 was named a USA Fellow by the organization United States Artists.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is Nina Dioz! Dioz is a queer Mexican hip-hop artist, giving us lyrics and beats that advocate for people to be their authentic selves whatever their ethnic background, orientation, or spiritual journey. Mexico’s first openly gay rapper, she often uses her music to shed light on political injustices and discrimination that women encounter-–with the song Tambalea in particular standing as an “empowering anthem dedicated to women and marginalized people everywhere.”Dioz has been connecting with audiences for over a decade, including at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is Melody Angel–a powerhouse guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, vocalist, arranger, and producer who is performing at two Levitt AMP locations this summer! Beyond her musical talents, Angel is also the founder of the Chicago-based nonprofit Black Revolutionary Collective, which is a free resource center and grassroots lobbying group for the Black community dedicated to equality and equity for all. The center also provides youth art programs, career building services, financial literacy seminars, and more. An inspiration both off and on the stage, Melody will be performing at: Levitt AMP Batesville in Arkansas this Thursday, June 15, and Levitt AMP Littleton in North Carolina on August 12.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is Remember Jones! Hailing from Asbury Park, New Jersey, this captivating pop/soul singer performed at Levitt AMP Woonsocket in 2022, showcasing his powerful vocals and impeccable dance moves. Jones is an LGBTQIA+ advocate who also uses his music for a wide range of other humanitarian causes; for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones created the campaign “Save the Planet” to raise money for personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, with proceeds going to Get Us PPE, a grassroots movement founded by physicians and nurses to get protective equipment to healthcare providers. Jones is a tour-de-force both on and off the stage, seeking to make the world a little more musical and a lot more empathetic.
Black Violin–the 2015 Levitt National Tour headliner–is this week’s Artist Who Inspires!! Composed of classically trained instrumentalists Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, this American hip-hop duo fuses classical and modern genres, making a sound all their own. Offstage, Sylvester and Baptiste created the Black Violin Foundation, a nonprofit organization “empowering youth by working with them in their communities to provide access to quality music programs that encourage creativity.” The organization reaches over 100,000 students per year, inspiring these youngsters to fuel their own musical styles. We love Black Violin’s passion for performance and admire how they share their joy of music with fans of all ages.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is Gaelynn Lea! In 2019, this incredible fiddler and vocalist captivated the @LevittSiouxFalls audience with her unique sound, described as “Velvet Underground Meets Little House on the Prairie.” Lea has shared her music, experience, and perspective as an artist with a disability on multiple talk shows and podcasts, including on @NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. She is also the Co-Founder of RAMPD: Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities, which works to “amplify disability culture, promote inclusion, and advocate for accessibility in the music industry.” We admire Gaelynn Lea for both her artistry and advocacy!
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is poet, entrepreneur, healer, and teaching artist, Sierra Leone. Her poem, “Music Heals on 5th and Main” was commissioned in 2019 and commemorated on a mural at Levitt Pavilion Dayton where she also read it onstage to a live, appreciative audience. Leone’s poem captures the joy that is felt through music on the Levitt lawn in Dayton. The Ohio native is an active member of the community, working with youth arts groups and schools through her organization, Signature Educational Solutions. We admire Sierra Leone’s important efforts with future generations as well as her ability to capture the magic of placemaking through poetry.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is Terrance Simien! Delighting audiences at multiple Levitt venues and AMP locations throughout the years, Simien will perform September 2nd at Levitt AMP Fort Smith. This two-time GRAMMY-winning vocalist, songwriter, and accordion player is known for his love and contributions to Zydeco–originating in Louisiana, a fusion of blues, Indigenous music, and other genres–and also for his work introducing new generations to this cultural form. Created over two decades ago, his multimedia program, “Creole for Kidz and the History of Zydeco” has reached hundreds of thousands of students around the world. Simien has performed with artists spanning from Dave Matthews to Stevie Wonder to Los Lobos, and has appeared on multiple soundtracks, including Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” Through his music and dedication to spreading the culture and history of Zydeco throughout the world, Simien is a leading figure ensuring the legacy of this incredible genre.
This week’s Artist Who Inspires is Natu Camara! Hailing from the Ivory Coast and raised in Guinea, this singer-songwriter has brought her powerful vocals and high-energy performance to audiences at multiple Levitt venues and AMP sites. In the early 2000s, Camara led West Africa’s all-female hip-hop group, The Ideal Black Girls, aka IGB, who crafted songs advocating for women’s rights. After the success of their first album, the group went on to organize Rhapsody, “a revolutionary festival of live music and mentorship for females.” Camara, who became a solo artist in the 2010s, splits her time between New York and Conakry, Guinea, where she dedicates her efforts to the education and mentoring of young women through her foundation, Dimedi Foundation.
LowDown Brass Band
Our Artist Who Inspires this week is LowDownBrass Band! The Chicago-based ensemble has performed at numerous Levitt venues and AMP sites, delighting audiences with their original blend of dancehall and streetbeat rhythm, peppered with the energy of conscious hip-hop, jazz, reggae, and soul. Combining their love of education and music–several of the band members work in the Chicago community as teachers–LowDown Brass Band performs for students all over the country. These concerts take young people on a musical journey through the history of various forms of jazz and their modern-day evolutions, through the lens of Black history and culture. The LowDown Brass Band is known for creating community and joy wherever they play their music: In one appearance at the Wyoming Educators State Conference, they led 600 students in a conga line, creating an unforgettable moment. This summer, the band brings their dynamic style to Dog Mountain when they perform at Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury on August 27th!