Growing up in rural Hopewell, New Jersey (population 2,010), Danielia Cotton stood out. Not just because she was only one of about seven Black kids in her junior high school, but because of the compelling power of her shockingly big voice, which stopped people in their tracks from early on. Danielia’s natural gift--raw, searing vocal chops combined with a deep, buttery tone--draws from the two different rich traditions that she absorbed early in her youth. On the one hand, she couldn’t get enough of what her friends and neighbors were listening to: AC/DC, Zeppelin, the Stones. On the other, she was her mother’s girl: daughter of a jazz singer and member of the church gospel choir, grooving to Mavis Staples, Etta James, Billie and Ella.
The happy collision of these two traditions is her new album, Rare Child, produced by Brad Jones (Jill Sobule, Over the Rhine) and co-produced by Joe Blaney (Shawn Colvin, Soul Asylum) and Danielia herself. On Rare Child, the sheer joy and pain she evokes in her songs instantly draw the listener in. She pulls, stretches and grips her lyrics with a strength that is startling considering this lovely young woman’s seemingly happy-go-lucky demeanor and petite frame. Appearances aside, like male counterparts Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone or crossover icon Tina Turner, Danielia not only has embraced the notion of Black Rock--she has redefined it. Very early on, music played a major role in Danielia’s life. It became not only the focus of what would become her career, but also, her saving grace and her best friend. “If I didn’t have music saving me every day, I wouldn’t have a place to put a lot of emotions that I have that could potentially be destructive,” says Danielia. “It’s how I survive.” Citing her mother, Danielia speaks lovingly about musical influences that aren’t quite from the playbook of most Rock performers. “I loved Phyllis Hyman’s, Somewhere In My Lifetime,’” she says, “and Chaka Khan. But not just the popular stuff. It was her version of I Loves You, Porgy’ from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. My mom also listened to things like Bonnie Raitt and Loggins & Messina. But for me, it was listening to Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder’s album Songs In The Key of Life: it was about that tone that I thought was the best. And Nancy Wilson singing, Guess Who I Saw Today’’; the first time I heard that I was like, ..I don’t even like that genre’ but I couldn’t get over the delivery. There was so much emotion. I like artists that were living and feeling whatever it was they were singing about.”
Quietly writing her own songs under wraps while she studied, she performed several original compositions at a recital after she spent her final year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Drawing raves for her performance as well as her songs, she had learned well by then that her lyrics had to be pulled from her own life experiences in order to be authentic and received in such a positive light. But you can’t always be the source for everything. I collaborate a lot. Like on Make U Move’ I collaborated with Kareem Devlin and Shelby Gaines, who I worked with on a lot of the songs on this record. The beauty of co-writing is that when you collaborate, your co-writers take you to a place you normally wouldn’t go.” For example, on ‘Make U Move,’ one of the most infectious, rocking tracks on Rare Child, “Kareem and Shelby brought the track, and I wrote the melody and the words, and there’s no way I would’ve come up with that myself.” Radio stations across the country appreciated Danielia’s unique rock talent. After Danielia released her first studio album, 2005’s Small White Town (Hipshake Records), WXPN/ Philadelphia and home of the nationally syndicated World Café named her “Artist To Watch” in 2005, slotted the album’s soulful single, “It’s Only Life” into heavy rotation, and featured her on their HDNetwork broadcast of “On Stage at World Café Live”. WXRT in Chicago featured Danielia on New Year’s Eve, where she brought down the house in a live performance broadcast by ABC. Extensive national touring followed. Danielia traveled the breadth of the country, opening for some of the greatest acts in music, from Blues legends Buddy Guy and Etta James to Pop Rock giant Bon Jovi, to the Southern Rock royalty of Gregg Allman, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Little Feat. Crossing boundaries was no problem for the versatile Danielia, who has wowed alternative rock audiences of the Flaming Lips, Staind and Collective Soul, among many others. Danielia’s unique talent drew rave reviews, with notices on her “raw intensity” (Essence magazine), her “soulful voice and searing telecaster” (Time Out NY) and for possessing “the sort of voice for which the phrase ..force of nature’ was coined” (Austin American-Statesman). Relix magazine named Danielia one of the “5 Artists You Should Know” in 2007 and New York’s Amsterdam News proclaimed Danielia “a powerful musician that cannot be ignored.” Danielia describes Rare Child as “a party, in a sense. It starts out saying, I’m gonna rock your world’ but then it arcs, has some soulful moments, and has some upbeat moments. Like going to a really good party, it isn’t all non-stop ..woo-hoo.’ You might get into a deep conversation with someone in one corner and share a joke with someone else in another. It’s an experience.”In making Rare Child Danielia’s goal was to create an album that she could really play.“I think this is an album that the audience wanted,” she says. “And because we didn’t try to write singles or do anything like that, it came out being a real rock ‘n roll album, and that’s exactly the way you have to go about it. And when you’re lucky, it ends up being this great effort, which I think it is.” The meaning behind the album title is at once personal and universal for Danielia. “When I’m out there, I don’t see too many Black girls slinging guitars. And I know they’re out there, Tracy Chapman, Toshi Reagon—but in the venues I’m doing and the genre I’m doing, a lot of times it’s just me. Music is so manufactured nowadays. I feel I go back more to the classics, and Rare Child just reminds me of more of the 70’s feel, and I think this album is a throwback to a time when music was less produced and a little bit more honest, accessible and realer. It doesn’t make it better or worse than anything that’s out there now, it just makes it what it is.Which is a little rare for right now. But a lot of people want that.” The Philadelphia Daily News concurs, saying ““Danielia’s music has the swagger of Let It Bleed-era Rolling Stones, her singing has the raw emotional power of Janis Joplin and her songwriting places her among the top new musical storytellers.”