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Meet Butterscotch, the extraordinary vocalist bringing her talents to the Richmond Jazz Festival

“My main focus is what I can give to people through my messages & music, and that's to be yourself to whatever degree you consider yourself,” she said.

Ishan Bose | August 10, 2017

If you’re not a big America’s Got Talent fan, this might be the first time you’re hearing about the 32-year-old beatboxing virtuosa known as Butterscotch. The multi-instrumentalist will be making her way to Maymont this weekend for the Richmond Jazz Festival. She has performed alongside acts such as Stevie Wonder, Talib Kweli, and Will.I.Am, and is in the process of creating new music.

Versatility would be an understatement to describe Butterscotch’s repertoire, which covers everything from beatboxing to singing, as well as classical piano, guitar, and saxophone. Butterscotch is part of a new generation of musicians that pushes the boundaries and the borders between traditional genres of music. Melodic and smooth, her name evokes the soft, melancholy notes of her music. Known as the “One Woman Symphony”, Butterscotch combines the influences of her many talents in her covers & songs.

Growing up in a musical family in Davis, California, Butterscotch and her siblings were each trained in a different instrument in addition to classical piano (naturally, her mother being a piano teacher).  The youngest of five, Butterscotch would often entertain herself by picking up and playing an instrument lying around the house. When the aspiring musician began attending high school, she picked up beatboxing through friends. “Sure, I played guitar, I played piano, but beatboxing is what made me different and separated me from your [typical] singer-songwriter,” the performer said. “That’s when I really started to put everything together.”

After winning the first BBC Women’s Hip Hop Championship in 2005, Butterscotch went onto win the West Coast Beatbox Championship — beating out all men — in 2007. “One event led to another and I eventually ended up on America’s Got Talent, where I placed third,” she said. Nearly a decade after her run as a finalist on the second season of America’s Got Talent in 2007, she regularly tours abroad when not in the studio recording. Looking back, Butterscotch is grateful for the exposure, but realizes she has grown much from and since that experience. “My main focus is what I can give to people through my messages & music, and that’s to be yourself to whatever degree you consider yourself,” she said.

Effortlessly flowing between genres, instruments and vocals, Butterscotch lists inspirations from classical music, R&B, hip-hop, and jazz among others. Posting “reimagined” covers of songs from a litany of artists, from legendary acts like Earth, Wind, & Fire to contemporary superstars like Ariana Grande and Drake, Butterscotch lives the quintessential ethos of an artist in the social-media age, regularly posting varied content for her fans across platforms.

Butterscotch spoke of the challenges of being under the scrutinizing media eye and, identifying as a lesbian, her hesitation with being an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community. “It takes a lot to come out and be fully open [on its own],” she said. “But then when you’re a public figure and you’re on TV, it takes a whole other level. Because you have to be so confident — about who you are, your lifestyle — and know that people are going to judge you unfairly.”

After her success from America’s Got Talent, Butterscotch has completed many tours over the years across Europe and Asia, performing at festivals and concerts from Germany and Russia to Hong Kong and Malaysia. However, this is the first time she will be traveling to Richmond. “I’m really excited to be on a bill with so many great, great artists that I look up to,” said Butterscotch on being part of the Richmond Jazz Festival’s lineup this year.

Butterscotch has performed alongside contemporary jazz musicians (including fellow Richmond Jazz Festival headliners) Marcus Miller and Larry Graham. “Erykah Badu is one of my all-time favorites and I’m so happy that we perform on the same day. I’ve met her before,” she admitted, “But I’m so happy to be able to conversate with her on a deeper level, since her music has moved me so much.”

Butterscotch’s latest single, We Are All We Got, was written last October during the heated election season. She says that despite the hate and chaos, “We can’t keep destroying ourselves because we’re all we’ve got.”

Butterscotch released her debut album in three volumes (as EPs) last summer, called The Scotch Tapes, Vol I-III. Her premier single from the album, “Accept Who I Am,” documents her own life and struggles with depression and suicide. While she promises that more content is in the works, the artist encourages all her fans and supporters to subscribe to her Patreon, which she describes as useful for having “fun ways to get involved with people directly supporting you.” In addition to making personal ringtones and providing customized beatboxing lessons, Butterscotch leaves her Patreon open to fans who just want a simple conversation about life.

Having been in the spotlight for some time now, with years of touring under her belt, Butterscotch offered some advice to young queer artists and musicians of color that she wished that she’d had when she was first began her career: “Always be true to yourself and don’t be afraid,” said the musician, who was 21 when she appeared on America’s Got Talent. “Base all your actions from a place of love, not a place from fear.”

“I was scared for awhile, because I wasn’t sure if my fans would love and appreciate my authentic self,” she continued. ”But after I showed my true self, I received even more love. Don’t focus on the people bringing you down, because there are always people loving and supporting you.”

Butterscotch’s music can be found on her website, as well as Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Spotify. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also support her Patreon.

The Richmond Jazz Festival runs from Thursday, August 10 to Sunday, August 13. For a full list of artists performing at the Richmond Jazz Festival, check here.