Candice Hoyes

Meet Candice, an award-winning singer who’s defining her way while defying conventional stereotypes. 

Introducing Candice Hoyes, who NPR nominated as an “activist-cum-laude.” She is a deeply layered and independent New York City artist on all fronts. Candice is a Columbia University Law School graduate turned musician who’s performed at Carnegie Hall, spoken for TED HQ, sang for Deepak Chopra, featured on podcasts, and lectured jazz at the Lincoln Center and other institutions just to name a few accomplishments. More recently, she won the NYC Women’s Fund for Film, Music and Media and was commissioned by the National Black Theater and Michelle Obama’s “When we all vote” to co-create new working styles and empower Black voters for the U.S. Presidential election. She just released her newest single, “Zora’s Moon” which serves as an ode to Black girlhood joy. In this interview, Candice opens up and dives deep into her activism, defining her way, overcoming challenges, building confidence and trusting her intuition.

Tell me about your background, ranging from your childhood in Florida to where you are right now.

I am very inspired by the things that happened within milestones throughout my life, it’s actually one of the biggest inspirations for my newest release which is an ode to black girlhood joy. I grew up between New York and Florida during the early portion of my life. I always loved music but there was no one musically inclined within my family who I could look up to or learn from. As a result, the majority of my childhood was centered around school and books which offered a gateway into travel, history, cultural and visual arts. They allowed my creativity to transcend genres and remain a huge source of inspiration for me to this day. 

My family is from Jamaica, so I am a first-generation American; I have always felt the tension of having a family that was partially in America and partially in Jamaica, but I have always appreciated how my parents were able to build a bridge for me between both cultures. As an evolving musician, I am attune to the little things that can change a room, energy or tone and I credit that to the many layers that exist within my family. I remain close to my family and find so much inspiration from them, especially the matriarchs. The women throughout my family have made so many sacrifices for me to have a beautiful life in America. 

Was your family supportive of your creative aspirations and endeavours?

My identity and how I musically expressed myself was always obvious to my family, for example, I was always singing at the top of my lungs and practicing phrases incessantly. While music was inherently a part of my being, it took me years to balance the expectations and compromises that existed between my personal goals and those of my familys’. While I want them to be proud of me, they may not always understand what my objectives are or where my destination is. That journey is continuous and I am still integrating expectations that are woven into my family life but I feel comfortable in my stride to not seek approval from other people.

My family was always supportive of my creative ventures, but often challenged me to be open towards academic paths as well. As first generation immigrant parents, my family valued security. So, after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, they encouraged me to attend law school, which I did at Columbia University. During my time in Law School, I explored ways in which I could pursue a professional career in music. In my last year of law school, I received a scholarship to attend music school which I accepted upon my dad’s advice to graduate from Columbia Law School first. 

Years later, I appreciate the value of my law degree and other various backgrounds because they are all part of the fabric of me as a musician, artist, thinker, writer and activist. I appreciate the different perspectives in my life because they all help feed my music, but finding my personal balance is challenging and it takes time. I no longer see the conflict in the different influences around me, rather I embrace it and understand its strength.

What other identities do you belong to apart from being a musician?

My identity is not skin-deep, there are so many layers that create the makeup of who I am; I try my best to acknowledge and embrace each of them as interconnected communities of myself. This is also how I see the world, as integrated communities.

I have always identified as Jamaican-American and I am grateful for my extended Jamaican family who stuck together to establish a life in America. I am also a part of the New York artist community. I also deeply identify with activism and the communal experience of Black people. I was often the only Black child in my classes which fueled me to not exclude people in the way that I was excluded. From the time I was 13, I have been fighting for issues that plagued the Black community such as police brutality. 

Understanding and accepting the full layers of my identity has never been anything short of daunting, but in the difficult times I find inspiration and strength in the artists and activists who came before me. I was always in awe of the Paul Robeson statue at the entrance of Columbia Law School, reminding me of the tenacity with which he built his life as an artist and activist without compromising on either side.

What does activism mean to you?

I am an activist through my choices and my perspective. I am deliberate and purposeful in the things I support, do, and amplify. I hope that telling my own story can expand the possibilities for other artists and people of color. Another important facet of activism is impact, because talking about politics without taking action can be meaningless. For me, taking action means getting people out to vote, canvassing, community organizing, fundraising and even showing up.

A few organizations that are married to my mission are The Feminine Press, the Women’s Prison Association and the Lower East Side Girls Club. What is most important for me is to return to my core values. If I am not protesting something in a specific or orchestrated way, are my actions reflective of my values? I ask myself this often and will turn projects away that don’t fit within my purpose and soul print, which is to amplify voices that are historically suppressed, forgotten and discarded. There is a common thread between the varied and active roles within my life, that is commitment.

What are some of the frustrations you experience as a musician in New York City? 

The competition in New York within the music industry is just as competitive as any other industry that exists in New York, it’s shark-like. Messages are telegraphed to you from the moment you are trying to determine your budget, or realizing that you are limited to apartments in a small handful of neighborhoods. It’s a churning and tiring place, and everyone is in the churn with you. But as frustrating of an experience it is to live here, this city holds some of my favorite memories. Within my time in New York, I’ve performed at TED and with Deepak Chopra in concert. I’ve sung operas, played with Philip Glass, spoken on “This American Life” podcast, lectured jazz at the Lincoln Center, produced my own projects, pitched them to cultural centers and collaborated with so many eclectic people whose work inspires me. 

Now that the city is in lockdown, I have never loved New York City more and I appreciate all that it has to offer. One of the great sustaining aspects of living in New York City is the omnipresent inspiration offered through other types of interdisciplinary meetups and spaces. As a result, I never feel pinned to music. If anyone out there is thinking that life in New York City is very hard, they are right. However, within New York exists so much to discover and uncover; there is so much beauty here. It’s challenging in that there is a lot to discover here, so you must constantly ask yourself what is best for you.

How do you overcome challenges?

Challenges are real and when I encounter them, I turn to books and to my roots and they always point me directly back to myself; they tell me something about myself that I need to know at that moment. First, know that you have everything that you need inside of you no matter what you feel is lacking on the outside. Regarding books, this experience has been written not just for people of color but for all artists throughout time and we can learn from them. Many different cultures write about the alienation of the artist and the loneliness of that process. Challenges are not something that’s defective about you or something you intentionally invite, it’s just a part of the process. If you can accept challenges as part of the process, you won’t attack yourself when you need yourself the most. 

What has been your journey of learning to trust yourself?

Confidence is a muscle that you exercise and grows stronger over time. Having the means to return to your center will be important as you continue your journey, as it has been for me. You will encounter experiences that will make you question yourself, even from the people who you love. During those times you must trust your intuition, even if people don’t understand your reasoning. If you find it difficult to hear yourself again, be still and stay grounded in the present. Trusting your intuition does not mean conflating everyone else’s ideas as your own. Make it a habit to rely on your own thoughts and feelings and eventually you will build a strong foundation of confidence within yourself. 

Also, do not expend your energy towards people who are trying to classify whether or not your ideas are eligible. No one other than yourself has the right to provide input or advise you on your ideas. When you encounter people projecting negativity or unsolicited advice, ask yourself if you and the person even have the same agenda and if not, just walk away from it. Continue to journey on your path and be the one to challenge yourself to think of better ways to execute your plan; believe that you have full power to manifest that plan.

How has Coronavirus affected you? 

First, I express my condolences to people disaffected by Corona who are reading this. I have friends who have had it, lost people from it, or live in fear of it. I am outraged about the federal government and what they are and are not doing to lead the country during this time. 

A few months ago, I was on a panel with other artists who were complaining about how their art has been negatively affected and how they don’t want to be writing music all the time. I too, have been working just as hard as anyone and was looking forward to the opportunities I could pursue after receiving my grant, however, there is so much substantial work to do at the structural and existential level. It’s not about me and my artist calendar, it’s about doing what needs to be done within this society and taking it one day at a time. I now know that I have to find a way to reshape my career and I work on that part a lot. One lesson I learned during lockdown is that I need to build in more time to rest, take care of myself and have fun. It’s been a very serious time for me, especially as a mother, and I am trying to be intentional about experiencing joy and recharging.

How did you start the “Jazz No Cap” interview series on your Instagram?

The “Jazz No Cap” series was something I was planning to start regardless of Coronavirus, and the silver lining of the timing worked out.

The series is an extension of the way I see my work, which is inclusive. I have interviewed people who are not necessarily pinned into the jazz genre, and that’s okay with me because the series is not intended to limit any type of conversations to be had. I’ve featured opera singers such as Florence Price and a variety of other artists. I think that jazz is the great American musical art form, so to feature any American artist is to have an inspirational and patriotic conversation.

What’s your musical process and how do you translate an idea from your head into a song, concept or video?

When it comes to making new music, there’s always an aspect of ebb and flow. I intentionally tap into deeper parts of myself on a regular basis so that my creativity river stays open. I leave my faucet on whether or not ideas come, but when an inkling of an idea arrives, I am very sensitive to it. As long as it’s interesting to me, I accept that not everyone may like it. I try not to let the idea go by any means, whether that’s making a voice memo on the subway, writing it down on a napkin, or watching someone play a melody to me that I feel is in conversation with my idea. I am not always in front of my keyboard with ample time when an idea comes, but I make sure to pursue it despite any physical constraints. I also always elicit feedback from my ideas; after I write a song, I will perform it at my next show to welcome and witness the song’s growth.

When it comes to the creative process, I would advise anyone to keep their creative faucet open and honor their ideas when they’re in the nascent stage. In my early stages of songwriting, I write as fast as I can because I’d rather have versions that are imperfect and whole than a hypothetical perfect version that is incomplete and intangible. 

What is your favorite, or most proud music moment?

My favorite moments in my career are yet to come; I have just released a single [listen here] and I know that memory will hold a special place for me. However, some memorable moments for me are when I performed at Carnegie Hall and when I finished and performed my first song after graduating from music school. My proudest moments are not the ones with famous people, rather the times when I wanted to quit but didn’t. The larger experience of defining my way and making my path is what I am most proud of. Yes, there were certain opportunities that opened massive doors and that I will be grateful for, such as winning the NYC Women’s Fund, but receiving that recognition does not change my process.

Are you becoming the artist you envisioned, and if not, what’s changed?

Yes, I am indeed becoming the artist I always envisioned. As an artist, I sometimes have a sense that I’m on the brink of my next self-discovery. More recently, releasing my upcoming single let’s me know that I am going to change and I am looking forward to the growth that it’ll welcome into my life. While being an independent artist is more work (such as funding my own recordings, and owning the distribution marketing and playlisting), it grants me the freedom to pursue the endeavours I have always wanted to and said “yes” to. I own everything and truly work on my projects for myself.

What keeps you going?

What I do is a part of who I am and everything that I have ever done. Consistency is a big, core value for me so I tend not to abandon things, even if I have a lot going on simultaneously. I don’t know that I’ll always be going, but each day I choose to continue my journey. It is inevitable that everyone has hard times but, you must know that feelings come and go. It’s not sustainable to jump ship each time hardships occur in your life, you must work through them. But as long as you love your work, the endeavor is slightly easier because it’s worth it. 

Follow Candice on her Spotify and Instagram and stay up to date on her new releases by subscribing to her website.

Check out his post on our Instagram page.

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