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Gem Tree On Expression, Release & Community In Her Work

Written by on June 30, 2020


Photo by Morgan Durrah

Influenced by Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Destiny’s Child, Gem Tree tries to bring light and comfort with all of her R&B tunes and dance moves. She spoke to us about the release she finds in expressing herself through art, how uniquely accepting the Chicago music scene is, and how she’s got plenty more good vibes to offer before the end of this year.

Photo by Morgan Durrah

How would you describe your work?

I’m a musician and dancer who believes in the power of connection and expression through art. Teaching and transferring knowledge to my dance and music students always assists in proving the importance of the healing that art brings.

You’re originally from St. Louis but are now based out of Chicago. What inspired the move and drew you here?

For as long as I can remember, my family and I always took a trip to Chicago every Thanksgiving to visit my aunt and cousins. So I’ve always traveled back and forth. School and opportunity is what brought me here. I came for college in 2009 and earned my BA in Dance from Columbia College Chicago in 2013. I love this city and decided to make it my home upon graduating.

Was your family also into music? What types of genres did you grow up listening to? 

Yes! My parents and late Aunt Pam would sing as a trio for many events around St. Louis. One of my uncles is a working musician. Both of my brothers are musically inclined. And the still popular hit “Who Can I Run To” is originally by my cousins The Jones Girls. It was remade by Xscape, and still gets sampled for radio hits to this day.

What’s your favorite part about the Chicago music scene and what this city has to offer, sonically, to the world? 

My favorite part about the scene is all the talent! I have very talented friends in many genres of music here, and there is space for us all to shine! There’s plenty of welcoming venues, which isn’t common in many cities. Together, we all have a strong voice that can bring great change to the industry, if we use our gifts for the greater good.

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Photo by Morgan Durrah

Do you find different forms of expression in each of your loves (music and dance)? 

I love that my parents put me in both voice/piano and dance lessons as a child. I truly love both art forms equally. They allow room for what’s sometimes difficult for me to communicate. They both are great forms of release.

From hopping on an anti-violence track to penning a gorgeous New Year single a few years ago, your music has always been incredibly inspirational. When did you first learn that music could be such a point of healing and growth? 

Since singing in both church and school choirs and watching my family do so as well! Coming into my own as an adult and really falling into Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and Fela Kuti performances and documentaries also assisted. All these messages brought people together and, at a bare minimum, allow you to make it through a moment with ease.

Photo by Morgan Durrah

What have been some of your most inspirational songs to listen to as you’ve grown up? 

Video” by India.Arie, “Sun Is Shining” by Bob Marley, “Umi Says” by Mos Def, “i” by Kendrick Lamar…Like many others, music helps lift my spirit, and these are some of my go-to’s.

Congrats on releasing “Need You!” What motivated you to keep creating during the stay-at-home orders? 

Thank you! Expression and healing is what inspires me to keep creating. I’m very intentional with my words and the way I move. I enjoy creating things that feel good to my soul. If I can relate to my own art, I know that others will be able to as well.

“Need You,” is a much more relaxed song compared to your other 2020 single “Mums.” While we know you for your genius in R&B, Hip Hop and Gospel, how have you seen your own tastes shift as you’ve grown up over the past few years? 

I’ve always been interested in almost every genre, and being a dancer has helped aid in that. When I dance, I like to turn on whatever feels like what I’m feeling, and that inspires me to make music in many genres.

What’s next for you? Are you currently working on any other projects or songs?

There’s so much in store! Expect, projects, more visuals, and more singles in the very near future. There’s still good vibes I have to offer to 2020.

Gem Tree has put together a playlist of some of the most meaningful and moving songs to her. Take a listen here:

Follow Gem Tree On InstagramTwitter and Facebook!

Interviewed & edited for clarity by Shelby Kluver

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