Singer/songwriter and guitarist Jarekus Singleton is on the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival line-up. If he’s to serve as a marker for the other acts appearing this year, the bar has been set quite high, and quality music will surely be bursting through the amps at Peoples Natural Gas Park this weekend, said Shelley Johansson, communications director at Johnstown Area Heritage Association.
“Jarekus Singleton is a straight-up blues player bringing a lot of excitement to Mississippi blues,” Johansson said. “He’s a great, skilled guitar player.”
JAHA, which produces the festival each year, is welcoming Singleton and his band to Johnstown for the first time, and Singleton said he can’t wait to get here.
“I’m looking forward to having a good time playing music and being in front of blues-loving people,” said Singleton, who is scheduled to play many other festivals around the country this summer. “I’m glad to come and be part of the culture and history (of Johnstown). The main thing I love about the festival season is that the people are so nice and genuine about the music, from the promoters to the fans. These people are just great. The blues community is a great community to be a part of.”
In a telephone interview just before a private concert in Las Vegas, Singleton discussed his childhood, his basketball career and the life he’s happily leading now.
Born in 1984 in Clinton, Mississippi, Singleton described his childhood as “happy.”
“It was cool growing up there,” he said. “I had a really fun childhood. I grew up with me, my mom and my older two brothers. We were poor, but I didn’t know that. I was just happy. I grew up in the church; my grandfather had a church in Jackson. My uncle taught me how to play bass guitar at age 9 and I started playing in the church band right away. I was learning and playing at the same time.”
Despite the joy that came from playing a musical instrument, he insisted that he didn’t think that his time spent practicing and performing would serve him so well in the years to come.
“When I first started playing, I really didn’t think much of it,” he said. “I just started playing and I figured it was something I was doing to help my family out, playing with the church. I never thought that much about it.
“Only my close friends actually knew that I was musically inclined.
People at school didn’t even know I was playing. One of my classmates heard me playing and she had to do a double take. I thought that was pretty funny.”
Singleton didn’t hide his interest in music; rather, it was overshadowed by his stellar basketball career. He was, after all, the No. 1 player in the state of Mississippi coming out of high school.
“Playing basketball was everything to me, so I went on to play at Southern Mississippi University for three years and University of William Carey for one year.”
An online sports profile states that he was named “the 2006-2007 Rawlings-NAIA Player of the Year, 2006-2007 First Team NAIA All-American, 2006-2007 GCAC Player of the Year, NAIA National Newcomer of the Year and First Team All-Conference. He was ranked second in the nation, averaging 24.7 points per game and fourth in the nation with 6.5 assists per game.”
Singleton admitted that he was quite competitive, and had a difficult time losing games.
“I like to compete,” he said. “I just always loved competition and being the underdog and coming out victorious. When I lost, I’d stay up all night trying to figure out what I needed to do for the next game.
I hate losing more than I love winning. I hate making the same mistake twice.”
It turned out, however, that nothing would be more difficult than sustaining an ankle injury in 2009 that left him sidelined and unsure if he’d be able to return to the basketball court. Upon having cartilage removed from his ankle, Singleton entered a post-surgery rehabilitation program and tried his best to fully recover. But the program wasn’t working, and Singleton soon acknowledged his next move.
“I’m the kind of person that if I can’t do it all the way right, I’m not going to do it at all,” he said.
On a bright note, he essentially received a two-for-one deal when he traded in his basketball jersey for a pen and his electric guitar.
“I was really frustrated. I was really down. I was really depressed. I was devastated. Music helped me get through that. It was a crazy thing—unfortunate but fortunate, because if I wouldn’t have went through what I went through, I wouldn’t have focused on music until my basketball career was over, so I’m glad God let that happen,” he said.
“But if you would’ve told me six years ago that I would be playing and singing for a living, I would’ve slapped you. It didn’t become real to me until after I had the surgery and started writing songs.”
Singleton always enjoyed writing and his talent as a lyricist is apparent, especially on his latest LP “Refuse to Lose.” Take these lyrics from the title track, for example: “To pay the bills I had to sweat / I worked hard jobs with no regrets / I scrubbed toilets to squeaky clean / And I scrubbed floors with Mr. Clean.”
A few songs on the album are autobiographical, including this one.
Singleton did indeed work as a janitor.
“I also worked cleaning out the oil pits . . . after people came to get their oil changed, I swept up the remainder of the oil,” he said.
“I’m not a stranger to hard work. I just want people to know I’m no stranger to humility or humbleness — that’s what I hang my hat on. I’m no more important than anybody else.”
Perhaps that’s why the overwhelming response to his latest LP has been such a thrill.
“I’m excited about it. It’s really good for people to be receptive about what I’ve brought to the table. It feels really good as an artist, as a writer. We had a lot of fun on the album and I think that shows in the music. It’s incredible to get the love I’ve been getting and I hope I can continue to inspire people with my music ‘cause that’s what it’s all about. As long as I can keep doing that, I think I’ll be O.K.”
Singleton and his band are scheduled to tour through October, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We love being on the road. We played in Mississippi for so long and when I was doing my own bookings and stuff, it was so hard to book gigs ‘cause nobody knew who I was and I was trying to get the thing going. Now that I have help and people behind me, it’s been awesome. I can focus on being an artist. I want to play everywhere — all the small towns. Once you play at home a lot, the road becomes a beautiful thing.”
But Singleton was also quick to say that Mississippi is still — and will always be — home sweet home.
“It’s the best place in the world,” he said. “It just is.”
While on the road, Singleton enjoys listening to and discovering new music. He’s a big fan of Derek Trucks, Outkast, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, among many others.
Even among these big names, he still lists his grandfather as one of his primary musical influences. And he said that if all goes well, he’ll be due to release another album in 18 to 24 months.
“I’m always writing, always coming up with new material,” he said. “I can’t go to sleep without thinking about music; I can’t turn on the air conditioner without thinking about music; I can’t walk to the mailbox without thinking about music. It’s a constant thing. It’s a lifestyle.”
For more information about Singleton, visit www.artistecard.com/jarekussingleton. Singleton performs at the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 2 on the Spangler Subaru Stage (Stage and time is subject to change; check event schedule.)