Calendar » Get Out

How Low Can You Go?

Blues singer triumphs over a totally messed-up childhood.


If Janiva Magness hadn’t sneaked into a Minneapolis juke joint when she was 14 years old, she’s certain she never would have become the award-winning blues singer she is today. Magness first heard legendary bluesman Otis Rush on that fateful day 36 years ago. “This man sang every note as if his life depended on it,” she recalls. “There was complete and total desperation. I even remember seeing how he sweat. I was riveted in a way that still affects me.”

The Detroit native recently released her seventh CD, Do I Move You?, which chronicles her troubled and turbulent teens. Both of her parents killed themselves with sleeping pills when she was young. By the time she was 14, Magness was a drunk, drug-addicted runaway who had bounced around a dozen different foster homes. Because of those experiences, she now serves as spokeswoman for May’s National Foster Care Month. “I spent a lot of years cursing and shaking my fist,” she says. “Finally, there’s a purpose: to hold the light for these other kids who’ve been through what I’ve been through.” Magness says her determination got her through all the hard times. It’s paid off. Earlier this year, she snagged her second straight female-vocalist honor from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation. “The award is the ring, the bar, the benchmark I reach for,” she says.
Tue., Aug. 14, 10:30 p.m.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Cleveland Scene works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.