Denisia is no stranger to big stages.
The R&B singer — whose vocals became inescapable following her locally viral bounce cover of Adele’s “Hello” — got her start on a massive one. When she was just 5 years old, she had her first ever public performance at the Pontchartrain Center in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people.
That being said, there’s a difference between performing a cover (in Denisia’s case, Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”) as a child and performing your own material in front of a festival crowd. And that’s exactly where Denisia will find herself during Essence Fest, representing her city to gaggles of enthusiastic visitors and residents the same as Crescent City luminaries like Big Freedia and Pell.
It’s the biggest stage she’s graced since she made the decision to pursue music professionally over a decade ago. Denisia — who claims that she was always the “girl singing around school” — focused on a career in music after kicking around a few open mics and winning several talent competitions. And while she’s found success as a songwriter and singer in featured slots, her solo career really took off following the release of her Adele-indebted bounce remix with local producer Blaza.
Denisia told us that she was shocked by the success of the remix.
“I was living between New Orleans and Atlanta at the time,” she said. “And I left after the song was released. When I came back to town, a friend of mine said ‘Come on, take a ride with me.’ And my song came on and I was like ‘Who’s that?’ and she said ‘That’s you, crazy!’ I had never heard my voice like that, sped up so fast.”
Although Denisia never set out to make bounce music, she said that she went along with the surging tide of supporters. In practice, that meant more remixes and a wildly popular series called “The Morning Beat” where she re-worked pop songs and classics into the city’s trademark style with bounce artist HaSizzle. She was new to making bounce and she says the remixes brought outsiders into the fold much in the same way that she was.
“People would approach me and say ‘Oh my god, I don’t listen to bounce, but your covers changed my mind,” she explained.
The covers proved so successful that Denisia felt the need to move away from them for fear of her R&B songs getting overshadowed or of possibly becoming pigeonholed as a bounce artist.
“I do bounce, but I’m not just a bounce artist,” she explained. “I’m just from New Orleans so I love those beats and the way they make people feel.”
She had a change of heart about the series after meeting people who described how much they loved her covers.
“I’ve met so many people who were crying actual tears and saying ‘your Morning Beats, they bless me. I wake up every morning looking forward to them.’ So, I had to get out of my own head because these are the people that I’m doing all this for. I’m doing the work I was meant to do.”
With the spotlight from the remix and The Morning Beat, Denisia’s career took off. The singer says that she’s been booked solid for the last year and that the newfound attention allowed her to play at Jazz Fest and Essence. In fact, Denisia told us that she found out about her Essence booking while still glowing from her first-ever performance at the Fair Grounds.
“I was literally coming off of the the stage from doing Jazz Fest, which is something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a little girl,” she said. ”And someone said ‘Hey D, congrats. You did a great job. Check your email.’
“I saw it was a link to Essence and I just freaked out. I really freaked out. I dropped my phone a few times. I had to have someone else read it to me,” she continued.
Now that she’s got it together, Denisia says she’s been rehearsing for days on end to show Essence attendees what she and her city are all about.
“Not that I want it to be like, ‘I’m here and I’m the little queen of New Orleans,’ but I am going to represent,” she said. “There’s definitely going to be a New Orleans texture.
“I’m going to let them know who runs the town..Just playing.”