The High Key Portrait Series: Suzann Christine

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Suzann Christine | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Suzann Christine has earned a place for herself as an estimable Philly R&B artist, no small feat in a city whose arts and culture is defined largely by its legacy of contributions to R&B, hip-hop and soul music. A longtime student of that heritage, the singer and songwriter has been named “Philly’s Best R&B Artist,” shared stages with the likes of Wale, Musiq Soulchild and Frankie Beverly, and played to a packed Franklin Parkway when Pope Francis visited in 2015.

Recently, Suzann published a new project called Cup of Love, which is now available on all digital media outlets, along with her new hit song “Save Me.” In April, she released a collaboration with Dejure Hest, called “Don’t Rush it,” along with a new music video for the track.

Suzann works hard to give back to her community too. For the past eight years, she’s been diligently developing SCH Creative & Performing Art, Inc., a non-profit organization that she founded and incorporated, where her “Fly Star” program was conceived as a way to help build self-confidence and self-esteem in middle and high school kids in Philly who were interested becoming professional musical artists. And this Thursday, June 7th, Christine performs at 2018 Redemption Week, a community concert and candlelight vigil to support One Day At A Time, a service organization helping low-income and homeless Philadelphians affected by HIV/AIDS. More information on that event can be found here.

Suzann Christine | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

THE KEY: Are you a Philly native, or Philly transplant?

SUZANN CHRISTINE: I am from Philadelphia, uptown. West Oak Lane to be exact.

TK: Did you go to high school in Philly? Tell me a little bit about high school, what do you remember first/most, when you think about it?

SC: I went to Philadelphia High School for Girls. It was absolutely one of the best decisions I could have ever made in picking a high school. My high school has a spirit that once received it will never die. I remember being able to practice my craft all year long through our vocal music classes, the Treble Clef choir and our annual “grade days.” All of my #248 class would be so hype every time I sang. And hitting that Girls’ High stage is where confidence was built. My instructor Carol Frazier really helped develop my voice. GHS is where I learned all about sisterhood. I love my Girls’ High girls!

TK: How did you first get connected to the Philly music scene?

SC: It took sometime for me to build connections here. I was away in Greensboro, North Carolina for college and when I came home I didn’t know anyone on the scene. I went to a open mic at the Marathon Grill at 40th and Walnut and sang one of my original songs when I met someone who had a studio in Germantown, and they let me record there for free. I was able to practice songwriting and recording there. Then I met a manager by the name of Michael Wynder who got me involved in the studios at the 444 building. I was kind of a hidden secret down there. From there I met a few different rappers and started doing collaborations. This really helped get my name out. I did music with Chill Moody, Freeway, Lee Mazin, just to name a few.

Suzann Christine | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

TK: Who’s your favorite Philadelphia artist, or which Philly artist influenced you most?

SC: I’ll never forget going to my first concert at the Dell East and I saw one of the most soulful stylish singers from Philadelphia — Phyllis Hyman. I fell in love with her song “Meet Me on The Moon.” I have her picture on my vision board alongside Girls’ High alum Jill Scott. Jill Scott is one of my favorite artists and musical influences hands down, especially from Philly. Her dramatic expressions and tonality. Her story telling and poetic soulful vibe is everything to me. She is someone I would love to have as a mentor.

TK: Where did you play your first show in Philly? How did it feel to be on stage that night, looking back on that show?

SC: I honestly can’t recall my first show here in Philly, I’ve been hitting stages since I was a child even before becoming “Suzann Christine.” But I do recall my very first show after quitting my full time job. It was held at the Arts Garage for Izzy Ike’s Color Me Bad series with an artist by the name of Lee Mekhai. I remember selling the most tickets on the show which allowed me to be the last person to perform and I remember it being the first time doing a full set with my first band as an artist, “Band for Higher.” The crowd showed a lot of love and I felt exhilarated, I just wish I had a better outfit on that night! [laughs]

TK: Which Philly music venue is or was your favorite to play at, and why?

SC: I don’t have a favorite Philly venue but The Dell East is probably one I would pick if I had to choose. The sound is great, it seats the most people I’ve performed in front of besides on the Philadelphia Parkway and I love seeing myself on the screens. [laughs]

Suzann Christine | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

TK: What did you love most about the arts scene in Philly?

SC: The raw natural talent. I’ve ran in many of the music scenes and I love seeing the different vibes going on. There is the jazz scene, the hip hop scene, the afrocentric conscious community, the R&B/soul community, the EDM — we have it all and the talent is truly amazing across the board.

TK: What did you find most frustrating about trying to create, perform, or grow as an artist in Philadelphia?

SC: Realizing that sometimes people won’t support you without certain figures co-signing you. Also, many people not wanting to handle business the correct way, and trying to find any way to get over on you.  Promoters not respecting the business of an artist and not wanting to pay artists for their time. And sometimes I wish we had more entertainment outlets like NYC, LA, and Atlanta. I also wish that we could sustain more historic music venues and recording studios. It saddens me to see so many amazing venues go out of business and get shut down.

TK: Which neighborhoods have you lived in? Which made you want to live there forever? Which couldn’t you wait to leave?

SC: I’m an Uptown girl and I love Uptown. Not many corner stores and liquor stores which I like. This is where I grew up and I’ll always love it.

Suzann Christine | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

TK: How did you see the city change in your time living here? Has it been for the better?

SC: Tough question. Yes and no. The city has changed a lot and sometimes for the better. The regentrification scares me. As beautiful as the homes are in neighborhoods that have been forgotten about for years and years, I am concerned about those people who won’t be able to afford to live where they are and many people of African descent will be pushed out. That’s what I don’t like. I love the Spruce St. Harbor and all that they have done downtown. New skating rinks and activities for people to enjoy the city.

TK: What was your preferred means for getting around Philly – bike, walk, SEPTA, drive – and why?

SC: I drive. Why — I’m spoiled and I never really had to be on the bus because I’ve been blessed and I only bike for exercise and fun. If you catch me walking, it’s because I’m downtown or just taking a walk with my dog or going around the corner.

TK: Yards or PBC?

SC: Neither. Never been much of a drinker and I’m not a big fan of the taste of beer.

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