From The Vault: Powerhouse Vocalist Oliv Blu Always Keeps A Pick In Her Fro…
Written by Vocalo Radio on December 30, 2021
To round out the year, Vocalo’s digital team is reflecting on the artists and creators who help make our station (and our city) great. Chicago vocalist Oliv Blu was featured on Vocalo’s “Most Played Songs” and “Top 10 Songs” of 2021 playlists with Kenny Keys’ remix of her track “Say It.” Jill Hopkins chatted with Oliv Blu back in 2019 ahead of her June 22 Chi Soul Fest performance at Navy Pier. Read their conversation now below.
Even if you aren’t a fan of The Voice, you will surely fall in love with Oliv Blu’s powerful voice… just like John Legend did.
The singer is a Young Chicago Authors alum, a powerhouse of a vocalist and one of the folks we’re bringing to the Chi Soul Fest at Navy Pier on June 22. We photographed Oliv at favorite local eatery Bon Bon Sandwiches before sitting down with Jill Hopkins to talk hugs from John Legend, the South Side and why she (almost) always keeps a pick in her fro…
I am so glad to have you here. Let’s talk about the South Side. We’re both South Side natives — what about growing up in that part of town made you figure out early on that you were a musical person?
For me it was in the house and in high school we had an amazing music program. I went to Homewood Flossmoor and we had access to so many different things, I was able to play around with things. At the time I wanted to be a producer and I just always knew I wanted to be involved with music. So whether it was my mom and my dad’s music taste that influenced me or being at school around a bunch of kids that were creative and starting to play with their talents. It all combined to inspire me to be a singer.
Speaking of kids who are ridiculously talented, Young Chicago Authors: at this point it’s just like a talent factory. It’s a legendary incubator. What attracted you to that program and what did you take from there that helps you still in your career?
So actually I’m part of a music collective called Free Soul, and they were the people that brought me there! And I’m not entirely sure how they found out about it, but I came with them one day and, like you said, I was amazed by how many people were so talented. It really inspired me to be more creative, and helped me write because they have the writing workshop right before. It also trained me to get over my fear of the stage. I definitely didn’t start out being super confident on stage — and even today I still get super nervous, but I just don’t let it show. I went there and I was practicing being a being able to perform in front of a crowd. It wasn’t huge, but it was practice. And it was a space to share my original works and Free Soul.
That collective that you mentioned, it’s so wonderful to to have that family of creation there. What what about that group kind of prepared you for solo work?
Well, because they are so talented. We used to get together every Monday, and it was kind of a way to refresh from being in school. Being in high school, it feels really tough and now that I’m out of high school and I’m like… man, this adult life is even tougher. I thought my problems are bad then, but it was like a stress-reliever and a place to just share without feeling judgment. So them being so talented and sharing their work inspired me. I’m like, “Okay, well, I need my stuff to be on point, too.” So we would share music with each other each week and we’d share ideas with each other. And Leo Mantra, he goes by that name now, he wrote my first song that’s on Soundcloud. It’s called “Love Song.” We worked on it, and that’s that’s kind of how everything goes. We all share ideas and we all put some input into each other’s idea. So it’s one nice project.
When you decided to audition for The Voice, as someone who might have some stage fright lingering around, this seems so intense to me!
Talk me through the process. We see what we see on TV, but there’s a lot that goes into the whole audition process. Walk me through that audition process for The Voice.
I was actually one of the lucky people that got an email from the show. A casting producer had seen me perform, I’m not sure where they saw me, and they reached out to encourage me to audition for The Voice. At first, I thought it was a scam, [laughter] but I looked into it and I found out that it was official. So I decided to do it. I was super scared and nervous to do it, but I decided to do it. I auditioned at Chicago Recording Company. They got back to me maybe a month or two later and flew me to LA to do another audition. I passed that, and that was when we did the blind auditions which is where I realized… “Okay, I’m getting really far.”
I was doing a lot of praying, because I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So that was a huge thing. This was a very spiritual journey for me. It showed a lot about myself, and I wanted to take on everything and learn the most I can. Not let fear block me from something amazing. So I do the blind audition… and John Legend turns!
Let’s be real, he is the best one.
Yes. Oh my. I mean, Blake was awesome too. They all have their special things! But I was super excited to work with John. I was freaking out after he hugged me! John Legend just hugged me and kissed me on the cheek! So we did the blind audition and I’m like… “Okay, I don’t know if I can do that again.” But then we did it again for the battles. Actually, that time I wasn’t as nervous, for the first time ever. I knew what I was doing. I just wanted to be confident and let my light shine. So we did the battle, and even though I didn’t win that battle, I got stolen by Blake. It was the best thing ever.
When Blake stole me it was like… “Alright, onto the next coach!” I want to learn from things that I’m not used to, that is the best learning experience ever. Things really started getting intense after that battle, because with each cut more and more people were going home.
Honestly, I guess what kept me going was just knowing that no one could take what was special about me from me. No one can change that. I can’t hit all these high notes all the time, there’s things I can’t do that other people can do. But there’s things that I can do that they can’t do. I’m so passionate when I perform on stage, and I think that really really helped me. My prayer is: “Wherever I need to go, whoever you need me to go with, God, is where I’ll go. I’m not going to try to control it.” So that’s how I did it.
Let’s talk about your new music. Super exciting that you’re working on all of that. You’ve got a whole new audience of fans now from the show, and I think that they are ready.
Oh, yeah. Honestly, I might be more ready than them. I’ve been working on music for a while and a lot of the stuff that I was working on I think I needed to just get out. I don’t know, I might not release some of it, but I have a single that I’m hoping to release very soon and a project that is in the works now and I’m just excited to finally share my work. I was a little bit scared before going on The Voice, and I feel like it’s just time. I’m ready, and I have this huge audience who are ready to hear more music!
One of the cool fun things that you did on the show that you’re doing right now is rocking your afro pick in your hair. I love subversive Blackness in mainstream culture. Tell me about the decision that you made to do that and to be ready for whatever people might have to say about it.
So, my saying was always: “My name is Oliv Blu. There are no E’s in my name, but there’s a pick in my fro.”
When I started doing music, I was very insecure and I had to get over a lot of things and learn to love myself — and a lot of that was through my hair. I just love to pick my hair and have it be in a big fro. So really, my pick is just a reminder to love my hair and be confident and let it shine. So I knew I wanted to bring that to the show. I was afraid whether or not they might accept it. But they were like, “Okay!” The stylists said, “That’s cool,” and, “We love it,” and they tried to fit it in each outfit. I was so happy to rock it and people loved it. And whenever I don’t have it pick in my hair they ask where the pick is! So maybe I have to find something else like maybe some cool scarves to also be a part of my brand and my look.
But I love to rock the pick and I love to inspire people who are maybe insecure about their hair like I was. And sometimes your afro it just doesn’t work with you. I mean, that’s okay too. Just rock it, man, and I just really want to inspire folks to be as confident as I am with my hair.
I want to talk about what we can expect from you at Chi Soul Fest. What can your friends expect to see when they show up?
Well they can expect some more of what I did on The Voice. I’m going to do some of the songs I did on the show. I have really colorful outfit planned, and I’m also going to do some of my original music that was out before… possibly the single that’s going to be coming out very soon. So expect some fun and singing along and dancing, because that’s all I want to do onstage! And I want people to be dancing in the crowd as well.
Well I can’t speak for anybody but myself. But I will be there, and I will be dancing…
Photos by Tom Gavin
Location: Bon Bon Sandwiches
Interview by Jill Hopkins