“Fight for your rights, and dance your socks off,” proclaims Ashli St. Armant, who has been performing – mostly under the stage name Jazzy Ash – for more than two decades. The singer-songwriter and arts educator has always been an avid student of Black American music, flipping through iconic catalogs of doo-wop, rock ‘n’ roll, and Motown, and she calls on that history of resistance and joy with her latest single “Honey,” the final primer to her forthcoming record, Good Foot, out this Friday.
Good Foot busts a groove right from the start, instilling the performer’s intention of offering happiness in a current state of unease. “No matter the age of the listener, I want them to be reminded that it’s not only okay to experience joy during these difficult times, it’s necessary,” she says. “I hope they crank this album up loud and just let loose.”
The album’s six songs are resolutely hopeful, but this year has most certainly weighed on her heart. A queer black woman and mother to two young sons, Jazzy Ash comes from a long line of civil rights activists. “In the beginning, I felt a lot of pressure to ‘get out there’ and march in the streets, but I also wanted to hunker down and protect our nest,” she says. “Then I realized that, in a lot of ways, I’ve been doing activism work for many years. We perform shows about Black music history for student audiences all the time, and in those shows, we always talk about racism, slavery, and civil rights.”
Music doesn’t just serve as a protest though – it can also be a balm. “It’s incredible to think about all the wonderful music that has come out of the darkest days in Black American history. The 1960s… was full of civil unrest, racism, and social uncertainty. At that same time, Black musicians were developing doo-wop, rock-and-roll and that classic Motown sound,” she points out. “I came to realize that this was the coping mechanism. This was self-care.”
That’s certainly true of “Honey,” premiering today. The doo-wop ditty intoxicates with its starlit production, classic structure, and the tender vocal dance between Jazzy Ash and real-life partner and LGBTQ+ activist Pam Rocker, with whom she co-wrote the song.
Seemingly ripped right out of the 1960s itself, the song began with Jazzy Ash tinkering on the piano. She had the melody, a theme, and a handful of lyrics, but the pieces didn’t seem to fit. She then asked Rocker what she thought, and “the concept of using the word ‘honey’ to describe experiences with three different senses ─ taste, sound, and sight” sprung from her fingertips, as Jazzy Ash remembers.
The two finished writing the song together, and it was instantly evident the song would blend its doo-wop musicality with a lilting lullaby mood. “In keeping with the overall theme of the album, it had to feel like a song from the ‘60s,” Jazzy Ash explains. “Doo-Wop was perfect for this because that style tends to be slow and tender.”
Their first proper collaboration together, “Honey” perfectly captures their union, one born of hope, compassion, adoration, and loyalty. “We’re both performers and songwriters, but this was our first formal opportunity to create something together. This song is so special to both of us. A lot of couples have ‘our song,’ but how cool is it that our song is a song we wrote together? Now we sing it to each other all the time. For example, we’ll sing ‘Honey!’ to call the other person down for dinner ─ that sort of thing. Isn’t that sickening?” she notes, laughing.
Jazzy Ash is currently developing a musical based on the Underground Railroad, as well as a mystery book series in which a young black girl is the protagonist. Not only is it creatively fulfilling, Jazzy Ash sees this work as central to the fight for racial justice. “In the end, I decided that the best way for me to practice activism is to use the voice I already have and make more art,,” she says. “This has been a time of immense creativity for me. That’s how I’ve chosen to funnel my energy.”
With her two young boys, she aims to keep a line of communication and dialog about current events always open, “so we can all grow through this experience,” she says. “Feminism, racism, homophobia, science, religion, and politics are kitchen table topics for us now.”
Good Foot is most certainly a salve for all of us in a year that doesn’t seem to end. Coming off a heated presidential election, Jazzy Ash’s voice is as important as ever.
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