Season 1 Episode 5 - Finding Her Way Home: Denitia's Divine Compass - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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"There's just an earnestness that I'm sort of like honing in on, that I'm feeling from the audience. I'm feeling from the artist as well [while touring with the Black Opry]." -Denitia

Denitia (she/her) grew up outside of Houston, Texas in the 80’s and 90’s. As a kid, she was obsessed with country artists like George Strait and Reba McEntire. But when she started writing her own music, Denitia drew inspiration from rock bands like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind. Denitia’s path to making country music passes through Nashville, Austin, NYC, and the Hudson Valley. In this final episode of Artist To Watch Season 1, you’ll hear Denitia’s story, learn about what it takes to get a song played on the radio, and listen to performances from the Black Opry Residency showcase. (See full episode one transcript below.)

(S1 Ep5) Finding Her Way Home: Denitia’s Divine Compass

More about Denitia

Meet Denitia
In Concert: WXPN Black Opry Resident Denitia
Black Opry Residency has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

EPISODE FIVE TRANSCRIPT

Roger LaMay: Good evening everybody. How you doing?… (fade under)

HOST: It’s Friday. The last night of the Black Opry Residency. WXPN’s General Manager Roger LaMay is on stage at World Cafe Live, a venue with a capacity of 650 people, welcoming a sold out crowd to the Black Opry Residency showcase. Backstage, Nathan Tempro, the residency’s project manager is excited. 

(Ambi – backstage)

Nathan Tempro: This is it. This is the performance that we’ve been building towards, honestly, for six, six months, this project has been going on, so we’re going to have a finale and it’s gonna be great.  

(Ambi – Dressing room goofing around)

HOST: In the dressing rooms, the Black Opry musicians are shaking off pre-show jitters and getting loose. You’ve met most of these artists over the first 4 episodes of this podcast series – There’s Tylar Bryant, Samantha Rise, Grace Givertz and The Kentucky Gentlemen. 

HOST: Today, you’ll get to know Denitia. That’s her in the background warming up with her song “My Weakness” before taking the stage with the other Black Opry artists. 

(Ambi – Warming up with “My Weakness” backstage at WCL before showcase)

HOST: Denitia grew up outside of Houston, Texas. As a kid she was obsessed with country music and she dressed the part. 

Denitia: Yeah, like wore boots. I wore the Rocky Mountain jeans, the freaking cowgirl shirts. You know, like my dad was always walking around in like a cowboy hat and like a big belt buckle. And mom was wearing the Rocky Mountain jeans. That’s just, that was just the vibes. Like that was hip, you know? [laughs] So it’s like, it’s totally at the core of what is cool to me and what is like good music.

(“My Weakness” by Denitia)

HOST: Denitia’s been making her own music and touring for well over a decade. She’s played Philly a handful of times before, but never in front of a crowd as big as the one tonight at World Cafe Live. WXPN – the non-commercial, public radio station in Philly that dreamt up the residency – has been throwing the full weight of the radio station behind the Black Opry artists. Playing their music on the radio and promoting the hell out of this show. And that’s been huge. Denitia has put a lot of work into getting her song “My Weakness” out there. She made a music video for the song. It’s all over her Instagram. And it’s one of three songs Denitia plans to perform during tonight’s showcase. 

(“My Weakness” up in the clear briefly)

(Sound design: “My Weakness” stops abruptly)

But you’re not hearing “My Weakness” on country radio yet. Getting the support of radio isn’t easy. Being talented isn’t always enough. Especially if you are a black artist making country music. Remember that study we talked about back in episode 1 that revealed that only about one percent of the artists played on country radio were artists of color? Holly G, the founder of the Black Opry has some thoughts about why that is. 

[00:02:33]Holly G: There are two factors to why artists of color not getting played on radio. One of ’em is money. It takes a lot of money and a lot of resources to pour into, to run a successful radio campaign. And the other side of it is just, it’s a good old boys club. Like they. Play and respect the opinions of the people that they know. And they have a very small circle of mostly straight white men that they’ve been relying on for the past however many years, um, to keep their programming going. And that’s what they go to and that’s what they know and they don’t wanna move outside of that.

[00:03:06]HOST: Bruce Warren is the Program Director at WXPN. He’s worked in radio for more than 35 years. 

[00:03:11]Bruce Warren: Typical path for an artist to get their song on at commercial radio is, first of all, more than not, they need to be on a major label cuz a major label has the money to spend, um, uh, promotional dollars to spend. Um, there’s a lot of money spent on independent promotion. 

[00:03:30]HOST: Independent Promotion. That’s when record companies hire independent promoters to get records played on the radio.

[00:03:35]Bruce Warren: And you need a ton of money, a ton of money. Not only. Just to do independent promotion, but because there is an expectation, um, more so a country format than other formats, that artists will do things for your radio station and that has to be paid for, you know? 

Producer: What kind of things? 

Bruce Warren: Play my Christmas party, you know, play my block party, play my festival. And that’s all part of promotion. You know? Mm-hmm. Um, and that, you know, that’s, that’s how, that’s how artists careers are sort of built in, in commercial media. So these are the relationships that, you know, um, that are out there that you have to figure out how to either work with or bypass somehow.

(MUSIC – “Nowhere” instrumental version By Denitia)

(###### INTRO #####)

HOST: You’re listening to Season 1 of the Artist to Watch podcast, featuring the Black Opry Residency. I’m John Morrison. Over the course of five episodes we’re telling the stories of Black artists trying to make it in the world of country and Americana music. This is episode five featuring Denitia. If you haven’t heard episodes one through four yet, you are missing out. I suggest that you go back and give them a listen. They tell the story of how the Black Opry – an organization committed to elevating Black artists in country music – and WXPN – teamed up to create the Black Opry Residency. 

(MUSIC out)

Back in episode 1, we heard about how Holly G started The Black Opry in 2021. It grew from a website where Holly built an online community of Black artists into a touring entity called The Black Opry Revue. Holly remembers when she first found Denitia online. 

Holly G: And I was like, I have to get her on a show now cuz it’s not gonna be long before I can’t. Um, you can just tell when you, like, you see somebody on, on that track. And I think that, you know, she’s so talented and such a good songwriter and the fact that she came and she did. You know, a run of shows with us and immediately got what the Black Opry was about. 

HOST: Rissi Palmer is a musician and the host of Color Me Country, a radio show on Apple Music. Rissi is also part of the committee that selected Denitia to take part in the residency. 

Rissi Palmer: I think Denisha is a fantastic writer. I was not expecting that voice to come from her and I think she’s got a really unique, interesting perspective and point of view and it’s country like it is really country and it’s, it’s great. I, I think she’s phenomenal.

HOST: Making music is nothing new for Denitia. But making COUNTRY music is. Which is surprising considering that she grew up in Texas in the 80’s and 90’s. Denitia says that pop country was everywhere. 

(fade under music – Denitia’s request: “Deeper Than the Holler By Randy Travis)

Denitia: You know, like when I say Big pop, it’s like the old George Strait stuff. Like Reba, Shania, you know? So that’s what we were listening to. That’s kind of like my earliest like kind of obsession with music was country music. 

(music in the clear – “Deeper Than the Holler By Randy Travis)

[00:06:41]HOST: Eventually Denitia found her way to alternative rock. Bands like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind. 

(music under – “How’s It Going to Be By Third Eye Blind)

[00:06:43]Denitia: And between the country music and the alternative rock music, like I needed a guitar real bad. And so I, um, asked my parents for a guitar. They, Christmas, they busted out this, what was it? A Stratocaster copy from Walmart and I was like, here we go. And [laughs] I started to, uh, learn how to play guitar, uh, by learning guitar tabs on the computer, you know, I’m on one side of our double-wide trailer, my parents on the other side, and I would just be up all night long on that dial up modem, looking up songs from the radio and trying to figure out how to play, how to play them, you know. And then I’d be in my room, the TV antenna as my microphone and just jamming. Jamming, bro, like. You know, arena vibes. 

(music in the clear – “How’s It Going to Be By Third Eye Blind)

So that’s when I really started to kind of play with this idea of like, songwriter being a performer. You know, I’d kind of like played with that before as a kid. I was writing songs when I was like nine, but when I got the guitar in my hand, something kind of clicked for me.

HOST: Soon Denitia started playing music in church and at the Christian school she attended.

Denitia: And those times are so valuable and formative to me because I did so much of that music, um, in a spiritual context. It wasn’t about me, it was about us. And that has really shaped my relationship with music today, um, is like, It’s a very spiritual thing for me. It’s connected to something divine and it kind of serves as a compass for me now. It’s like when I’m aligned with that kind of sentiment where it’s like about something greater, then I know that I’m like on the right path, you know? 

(Ambi – Broadway in Nashville)

[00:08:35]HOST: Denitia’s path eventually led her to Nashville. She was in high school when she came for a visit with her mom and grandfather.

(BEGIN Denitia on Nashville)

[00:08:40]Denitia: We just came here to visit just on vacation, and we took the tour of RCA Studio. We went up and down Broadway and I was like, man, this is cool. Like, something was lit up in me, you know, I was like, This is really cool. This is like music city 

[00:08:54]HOST: After high school, Denita says there was no question about whether or not she would go to college. 

[00:08:59]Denitia: It was like, I am going to college, like you are going to college. So like where, so I was like, well if I’m gonna go to college, then I wanna be somewhere where I can write songs where that makes sense, where I can like learn from other people and like be in the environment that I want to be in.

[00:09:20]HOST: Denitia went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. A.K.A. “Vandy”. 

[00:09:24]Denitia: You know, freshman year at Vandy I was playing open mics and recording demos and yeah, trying to figure out like what to do. 

[00:09:35]HOST: After graduating Denitia stayed in Nashville for six years. But then she started feeling like she needed to go somewhere else to be challenged. Denitia was itching for something more. 

(END Denitia on Nashville)

(BEGIN Denitia post college Nashville move to NY)

[00:09:43]Denitia: I always wanted to live in New York City from the moment I first went there when I was a teenager. I was obsessed with the energy, the life of the place, and just like how, it just feels like it’s on the cutting edge, like just feels culturally very significant. So I left Nashville in 2010. I moved to Austin for a little while actually, and I was like, well, maybe Austin will be cool, you know? And I was like, no, no, no. This is more of the same. I gotta just go to New York. And that’s what prompted me to go to New York. 

(New York ambi)

[00:10:21]HOST: In New York, Denitia moved into a house with some other artists in Brooklyn. 

[00:10:25]Denitia: They called it the Clubhouse. It was in this neighborhood called Ditmas Park. It’s a three story Victorian home, and I think at one time there were like 11 of us living in this house. Right. It’s like a dream. Now looking back to it, it’s, there was, they had a recording studio set up. The guys that were living there knew how to make records. And I just started to learn from them, like how to actually like, make my own music, how to produce my own music.

HOST: The Clubhouse was a playground for Denitia. She used that time to explore a wide range of sounds and music genres. 

[00:10:54]Denitia: every time I go to record or go to like, kind of work on a new project, I’m sort of like coming in through a different door with all these, these like affinities and like tastes that I have, you know?

HOST: Denitia’s early music has beautiful lush production. But it’s definitely not “country.” Check out this song called “Weekend” from 2013. 

(“Weekend” By Denitia from Weekend single)

HOST: Denitia eventually moved out of the clubhouse in Brooklyn and made her way to Rockaway Beach. 

[00:11:30]Denitia: Which is kind of like one of the formerly Best Kept Secrets of New York City. Right? It’s, you know, you take the, A-train all the way past JFK and then you get to like the literal ocean. It’s, it’s a beach community. There’s surfers. I ended up moving out there, I lived there for like five years Something so special to me about the water. I, I’m really like drawn to it. And I would just get up every day, like super early in the morning and. Have this like beautiful, like healthy routine of like drink my like green smoothie and like just make songs, you know? The record that I made there was called Touch of the Sky, 

(“Sweat” by Denitia from Touch of the Sky)

HOST: That’s “Sweat” from Denitia’s album Touch of the Sky. It came out in 2019. Denitia was finding her groove among deep layers of electronic sounds. But then, along came 2020. And we all know what happened at the beginning of that year. 

Denitia: Life changed as we know it. And things just kind of slowed down and. I had this kind of like moment of like, what is the thing that I’m like really after, like what’s, what am I really trying to do here? And I kind of wanted to just like peel away a lot of like layers and something about acoustic music, country inspired music. Just started to like, you know, just really kind of scream through. And I was like listening to that and staying up late at night just writing songs just on acoustic guitar at a time where I couldn’t go to my studio. I didn’t have access to anything except for what was right there in our apartment. 

HOST: Denitia says that during that quiet, chaotic time in 2020 when the pandemic was raging, she was grasping for something that felt like home. 

Denitia: And I just had this vision of like, I want to make music that feels like the music that I grew up on. And that sound and those old eighties and nineties country records, that’s what felt like home to me and I wanted to communicate my story in that format.

(Music – “Highways” loop intro – By Denitia)

[00:13:44]HOST: During the pandemic, Denitia took daily walks in the park just to get outside of her apartment. 

[00:13:49]Denitia: I was just reflecting, man. I was in a really reflective mood of like, what, what are we doing? Like what, where am I going? What is life? You know? And I just kind of started to think about like all these different lives that I’ve lived and, it just came to me like I’ve wandered off from here to Houston looking for a place that I could call my own, 

(MUSIC song: “Highways” by Denitia post on lyrics “I wandered off from here to Houston…”)

[00:14:09]HOST: That song, “Highways” would become the title track for the album Denitia released in 2022. Most of the songs were ones that Denitia started writing in New York City. But, eventually she moved upstate to the Hudson Valley and stayed there for a couple of years. 

[00:14:20]Denitia: And while I was living upstate is when myself and my producer, Brad Alan Williams kind of finished the project. We finished Highways. So there was some songs in particular that I remember going to visit upstate. I would be writing these songs that were inspired by these vistas, you know, this like longing for space and tranquility.

(MUSIC: “End of the Night” by Denitia from Highways)

HOST: No matter where she is, Denitia tries to write every day. 

Denitia: Sometimes I’ll just get up every day and just like journal, like routinely. Sometimes I’ll just write in my notes app on my phone. So I try to stay in the practice of writing because that way, the words are always available to me and I’m always kind of like tracking what I’m experiencing or what I’m observing other people experiencing.

HOST: During one of these writing sessions, Denitia was thinking about the friends and family from her hometown back in Texas. People that she hasn’t lived near since she was a teenager.

Denitia:And I want them to know that I love them even though I’m not there physically. And I just kind of just started painting this picture of like, there’s all this beautiful life to experience these places we could go and things we could do, especially, you know, I was writing this as we’re like in quarantine, like peak quarantine. Like kind of just imagining like, well, what would I do if we weren’t doing this? And, and then there’s also like this moment that I could just be in and just be grateful and just be right here. Like, there’s all this stuff in the world that we could see and it’s, it’s all just waiting for us whenever we want it.

HOST: As that picture that Denitia was painting in her mind started to come into focus, a lyric came to her.

Denitia: Time is ticking, like it always does flies right by right over us. 

[00:17:16]HOST: Those words became the first line of Denitia’s song, “All the Sweet Tea”. 

(“All the Sweet Tea”)

HOST: “All the Sweet Tea”. It’s a song that has received a lot of attention.It’s in rotation on WXPN’s airwaves and. it’s been streamed hundreds of thousands of times. 

(“All the Sweet Tea” in the clear)

HOST: Denitia was living upstate when she started to feel Nashville calling her again. She moved back to music city in 2023. After connecting with Holly G Denitia played a bunch of shows with the Black Opry. 

Denitia: Touring with the Black Opry has been sort of this different experience. Um, There’s just an earnestness that I’m sort of like honing in on, that I’m feeling from the audience. I’m feeling from the artist as well. There’s like an intention and like an intentionality there that’s just like, it’s warm, it’s like very like based in love. It feels really good and different and really aligns with what I’m trying to do with my own music. 

HOST:  Denitia says that the people who show up to hear the Black Opry shows, may not know the individual artists, but they show up, eager to listen.  

[00:18:14]Denitia: To perform for people who are just showing up, they don’t know who we are, and then they’re like, wow, that was the best show I’ve ever seen. Like, please come back to Delaware, please come back to New Hampshire. Like, we needed that. It’s like, it blows me away. And it also is like, yeah, man, like we’re in the right place. We’re not crazy. Like this is, we’re, this is a phenomenon. We’re onto something. 

(Friday Night Showcase – end of Denitia’s “All the Sweet Tea”)

[00:19:07]Denitia (singing): all the mountain peaks, and they’re waiting. They’re… [song ends, applause]

Denitia: Thank you. Thanks so much.

HOST: Back at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, the Black Opry residents are wrapping up their sold out show. But They’ve picked out a special encore song and invited Frankie Staton to perform with them. Frankie is very excited to see everything that’s happening for the Black Opry.

Frankie Staton: And I’m just shocked that they even recognized me. 

(Applause from WCL continues throughout)

[00:19:59]HOST: We met Frankie back in episode 1. Frankie helped to found The Black Country Music Association that served as an inspiration for the Black Opry. After 42 years in Nashville, Frankie says she never dreamed of seeing a day like this. 

[00:20:15]Frankie Staton: I think that they’re on the new frontier of anything as possible in country music and to take it where it’s never been to people who’ve never actually felt welcome in the genre. And the possibilities for them are endless. I think that, um, there will be a subculture in country music in that is so many different facets of it today from bro country, country rock, uh, modern, traditional country, vintage country, you know, country blues, and so, to think of the page that African Americans can turn in, country music would be totally amazing.

HOST: On the stage of World Cafe Live, Bruce Warren from WXPN re-introduces the Black Opry residents. 

Bruce Warren: Without, without any further ado, Grace Givertz, come on out. Come on, grace. Come on, grace Danisha, Derek and Brandon, the Kentucky gentleman. Tylar. T Money Bryant, Samantha Rise from Philadelphia. And of course the legendary, our very special guest, Frankie Satan. 

HOST: The encore they picked out is a classic pop song made famous by Whitney Houston. 

BOR Artists [performing]: …Somebody who loves me. Dance … With me baby. Don’t you want a dance? Come on…Don’t you want with me baby, with somebody who loves me… 

[song ends – applause]

(MUSIC: Nothing Can Keep Me from You INSTRUMENTAL VERSION- By Denitia)

(Begin UPDATES MONTAGE)

[00:24:03]Denitia: Hey, this is Denitia. 

[00:24:04]Samantha Rise: This is Sam Rise. 

[00:24:06]The Kentucky Gentlemen: Hey, this is Derek and Brandon from the Kentucky Gentleman. Hey, this 

[00:24:09]Tylar Bryant: is Tyler. Hey there. 

[00:24:10]Grace Givertz: This is Grace Givertz in Boston. 

[00:24:13]Denitia: It’s been almost two months since the Black Opry residency in Philly. 

[00:24:19]Tylar Bryant: Which iscrazy cuz doesn’t seem like he was actually that long ago, but I guess. The week kind of felt like six months or something. I don’t know. Just a lot was going on in that time. 

[00:24:30]Grace Givertz: Having a week to really focus on music and where I am in my career and what I’m going to be doing next really was what I needed. 

[00:24:39]Denitia: Since the residency, I have been working on my album to follow up. Last year’s release of highways.

[00:24:49]The Kentucky Gentlemen: We’ve started our summer tour. We are also working on our full-length album.

[00:24:53]Tylar Bryant: Been doing a lot of writing. I plan on putting out a full-length record, you know, within the next year. 

[00:25:00]Grace Givertz: I am gonna finish up recording my next album. Just have a couple more sessions left before we can start mixing it. 

[00:25:08]Samantha Rise: Since the residency, I’ve really spent a lot of time mapping out a strategy for the next phase of my musical career.

[00:25:19]Tylar Bryant: So yeah, I’ve just kind of really been busy. I had a laundry list of things I need to get done once I came home from the residency until I’ve slowly been knocking that out. It’s kind of been a lot of little things, a lot of these things I’ve had that I didn’t know I had. And so, and that’s more geared on the business side. 

[00:25:35]The Kentucky Gentlemen: We’ve really started to get the business side of our artistry in order. That’s one thing that stuck with us, along with the relationships we’ve built with our peers that will just we’ll be carrying with us forever. 

[00:25:45]Denitia: What’s really stuck with me is that we’re better together. You know, I love being a part of the community and the camaraderie of artists. And it’s really special. 

[00:25:59]Samantha Rise: One thing that really stuck with me from the residency was how special it felt to be in a group of such. Extraordinary artists who sound so different.

[00:26:13]Tylar Bryant: just the other artists that were part of the residency. Getting to know them on a more personal level kind of path. You know, the part of them that makes them an artist, I think is um, was really cool to see, you know, from kicking back on the couch, you know, eating Cheetos in a snuggie to being all glammed up on stage in front of a couple hundred people. It’s a pretty cool thing to see. You know, it’s not something you, you, you do every day. 

[00:26:37]Samantha Rise: I just feel grateful for the, for all the people behind the scenes, um, at W X P N and, and also through Black Opry, that that made this possible to all of our mentors and to all the staff during our residency week. We were so well supported and cared for, and I know that that extends beyond just those seven days.

[00:26:55]Denitia: I’m just grateful to have been a part of that. Thank you to X P N and Black Opry for having us for this residency. 

[00:27:05]Grace Givertz: I can’t wait to have another opportunity to be in Philly, but also to see my Black Opry family again. 

[00:27:14]The Kentucky Gentlemen: One last thing is that we’d like to send our love and full gratitude to all, everyone at W X P N and the people of Philly that made that entire experience so incredible. And thank you so much for cultivating such magic between us and, and y’all. We love you and we cannot wait to come back to Philly, so we will see you then.

(End UPDATES MONTAGE)

(MUSIC – “Nowhere” instrumental version By Denitia)

(CREDITS )

[00:27:38]HOST: We hope you enjoyed this episode of the Artist to Watch Podcast. For more information about the Black Opry residency, visit xpn.org. 

The Artist to Watch podcast is produced by W X P N Member Supported Radio from the University of Pennsylvania and partnership with Rowhome Productions WXPN’s. Executive producers are Roger LeMay and Bruce Warren. The executive producers for RO Home Productions are Alex Lewis and John Myers. 

This episode was written by John Myers with help from me, John Morrison. Final Audio Mixing and Mastering for Rowhome Productions by Justin Berger. Special thanks to Holly G and Risi Palmer. The Black Opry Residency has been supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. The Artist to Watch podcast is distributed by P R X, the public radio exchange. 

If you enjoy being the first to discover up-and-coming talent, be sure to go to the Artist to watch show page on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, and subscribe by, click and follow so that you never miss an episode.

While you’re there, please leave us a review and share an episode with a friend. Thanks for listening.

(Rowhome Productions Sound Logo)

(########### END ###############)

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