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Louisiana born-and-raised singer-songwriter and guitarist Joy Clark is charting her own path. Born the youngest of five children in a tight knit, deeply religious family, Clark’s debut album is both a declaration of her independence and a love letter to the traditions that shaped her.

Joy’s songcraft, paired with sophisticated progressions, and themes of freedom, love and self-acceptance gained her notice on the national folk and Americana scenes just a few years ago with appearances at Americanafest. She caught the attention of Grammy-winner Allison Russell and was offered a regular spot in her backing band The Rainbow Coalition, earning her the chance to jam with superstars Brandi Carlile and the Indigo Girls. Talking to The Tennessean, Russell described Joy as a “a brilliant artist, writer and singer.”

But Joy’s story starts long before her most recent accolades. Joy honed her guitar chops and was introduced to the stage in her parents’ church, leading worship services with her siblings every Sunday in Harvey, a town just outside of New Orleans. While her duties at her parent’s church combined two of her favorite things—her family and music—she knew she just didn’t quite fit. Home schooled for the majority of her childhood, Joy had the freedom to study her craft while being reminded day-in-and-day-out of the straight and narrow path laid out for her.

She idolized artists like Margaret Becker and Jennifer Knapp, pausing VHS tapes to double check her chords against theirs as she unknowingly taught herself chord theory. Joy was drawn in by Becker’s honest work celebrating grace and mercy. Later, her sister would introduce her to some of her first secular influences—Tracy Chapman, Roberta Flack, and Chaka Khan. While her musical world expanded, her love for her childhood influences remained. A chance encounter at Mile of Music Festival would connect her to her childhood heroes Jennifer Knapp and Margaret Becker.

While studying at the University of New Orleans, Joy started penning and playing her own songs at local open mics. Venturing into New Orleans’ legendary music scene, Joy soaked up the city’s traditions, most notably New Orleans’ freedom, its “do whatcha wanna” attitude, a far cry from her religious home just a few miles from the city center. Her newfound community of queer folks, poets, artists, activists, and people living as their authentic selves combined with her social science studies, brought Joy closer to the self she was still defining.

Joy further honed her craft accompanying artist and activist Michaela Harrison, touring with Waterseed, and collaborating with the Lilli Lewis Project. Joy’s prowess on rhythm guitar and lead earned her a coveted spot in living legend and Grammy winner Cyril Neville’s band.

“[At shows] I sometimes was so into what she was playing that I would let her solo as long as possible. The crowds would be as enthused with her playing and stage presence as I was,” said Neville.

A few years ago, Joy was asked to pen an original Christmas song for a local songwriters’ circle. She penned a jingle about her favorite holiday tradition—the army-sized pot of gumbo Joy’s beloved grandmother (affectionately referred to as Baumaw) had marked every Christmas and Thanksgiving with for decades. Joy’s “Gumbo Christmas,” an ode to her family and one of Louisiana’s most treasured traditions, led to a chance collaboration with acclaimed singer-songwriter and activist Ani DiFranco when Ani sat in on the song at a local benefit show. Ani invited Joy to join her “people-friendly, sub-corporate, woman-informed, queer-happy small business that puts music before rock stardom and ideology before profit,” label Righteous Babe.

“Clark is a revelation in many ways. She is a singer-songwriter in a city better known for jazz, bounce, and hip-hop. Her songs are specific, personal, and crafted carefully, yet have a broad universal appeal,” wrote James Cullen in a piece for Antigravity Magazine.

Joy’s debut album “Tell it to the Wind” marks her arrival on the national stage as an artist who is proud to weave the social consciousness of folk with the rhythms of Southeast Louisiana with the soul-centered music of her childhood, while charting out a path that is all her own. Produced by her musical hero, the four-time Grammy nominated Margaret Becker, it symbolizes a coming home of sorts for Joy, one where she is finally embraced as her full self. Becker’s influence is apparent throughout the album, with her co-writing six of the album’s nine tracks.

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