Best Musician

Linda Tillery

A choir leader, folklorist, former session drummer, vocal percussionist, and R&B singer with an operatic register, Linda Tillery is often hailed as the female counterpart to Bobby McFerrin. She’s an absolute monster of a musician who came up performing with the psychedelic ’70s band Loading Zone — a perennial in the San Francisco club scene that cameoed in the 1970 surreal film Roseland — went for a more smooth-jazz sound in the 1980s, and returned to her roots a decade later, when she started the a cappella quintet Cultural Heritage Choir. The choir, which also features Oakland jazz vocalist Rhonda Benin, draws from an African-American lineage of spirituals, field hollers, and old work songs. Tillery preserves that blues sensibility — which is all about raw emotional poignancy and the willingness to survive — but uses modern inflections, hip rhythmic patterns, and interesting harmonic ideas to keep her music contemporary. She’s the type of musician who could win the respect of any folk-music purist, but also get props from a hip-hop head. Seen live, she’s dazzling.


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