A professed Southern Gothic songster born in Chattanooga but based in Johnson City, Tennessee, Amythyst Kiah’s commanding stage presence is only matched by her raw and powerful vocals—a deeply moving, hypnotic sound that stirs echoes of a distant and restless past.
Accoutered interchangeably with banjo, acoustic guitar, or a full band (Her Chest of Glass), Amythyst’s toolbox is augmented by her scholarship of African-American roots music. Provocative and coolly fierce, her ability to cross the boundaries of blues and old-time through reinterpretation is groundbreaking and simply unforgettable. Amythyst Kiah is forging an important path from her musical ancestry to a multi-cultural generation with contemporary sensibilities and undeniable flair.
A graduate from East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies, she was the only African American in the program during the time of her enrollment. Amythyst’s eclectic influences span decades, drawing heavily on old time music (Mississippi Sheiks, Son House, Jimmie Rodgers, Olla Belle Reed, Carter Family), inspired by strong R&B and country music vocalists from the 1950s-1970s (Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn) and influenced by contemporary artists with powerful vocal integrity (Adele, Florence and the Machine, Megan Jean and the KFB, Janelle Monae).
Amythyst has self-released two albums, both to critical acclaim. Her first solo album Dig in 2013 and a second full-band project in 2016 entitled Amythyst Kiah & Her Chest of Glass. Her music has opened pathways to tour across the U.S., Canada, and abroad, performing at premium festivals and venues including John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Cambridge Folk Festival, Southern Fried Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Larmer Tree Festival, globalFEST, National Music Centre, Symphony Space, AmericanaFest, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, and the Americana Music Association UK Showcase.
In 2017 Amythyst was featured in the film A Great American Tapestry, The Many Strands of Mountain Music, a documentary that tells the story of the southern mountain’s musical birth and evolution through the strands of the Scots-Irish and African-American tradition.
In 2018 Amythyst was invited to tour with Grammy Award-winning artist Rhiannon Giddens and the Indigo Girls, playing a number of dates with both acts across the United States. Rhiannon then invited her to be part of a project she was working on for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The album Songs of Our Native Daughters, released February 2019, “shines new light on African-American women’s stories of struggle, resistance, and hope. Pulling from and inspired by 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century sources, including slave narratives and early minstrelsy, kindred banjo players Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell reinterpret and create new works from old ones.” All of the compositions on the album were written and performed by these four powerful women and Grammy Award-winning musician and producer Dirk Powell, who has worked with a number of artists including Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, and T Bone Burnett. Reviews of the album branded these ladies a “supergroup,” and that’s only the beginning.
The full impact of Amythyst’s upward trajectory has yet to be seen, as she emerges as an artist to watch. She is currently touring and working on her third album with Dirk Powell, who produced, to be released later this year.