What's In A Name?

By Ruby Amanfu

You haven’t yet seen my image on a billboard - unless you drove through Green Bay, Wisconsin in 2013 or were in some random part of Australia back in 2003. You may have seen my face on the telly if you watched MTV in the “olden days” when they still played music videos. Yet I know you’ve heard my voice. Yeah, ya have. You’ve been roaming through TJ Maxx shopping for those discounted towels and I’ve been singing to you through the particle board overhead. I worked a lot of long hours to become that girl singing through the particle board in stores, restaurants and on planes around the globe. Hashtag Muzak.

My journey began with a solo record deal at age 17. I have never salivated at the thought of seeing my name in lights but I knew that this career was tailor made for me. Ruby Amanfu - Solo Artist; it’s a title I claimed as my own by the time I was 15. My first album was released right out of high school and I’ve planted a lot of seeds that have borne a tremendous amount of fruit since then. Ruby Amanfu is not yet a household name, but the households who do know it keep me busy, happily working within my craft.

Solo Artists can be very territorial. I was. If it was my name on the bill I wanted the show to go down as I saw fit from the setlists to the inter-song banter to the choice of encore song at the end of the gig. I never saw it any other way and never thought I would be made to. Then I met a bloke by the name of Sam Brooker and I knew that I had met a musical soulmate. We wrote and sang together for 7 years. We shared everything and although sometimes it was hard to share, it was worth it for the both of us. He was Sam; I was Ruby. You didn’t say one name without then saying the other.

Then Jack White called - a name I knew well but I didn’t know much else other than that. When Jack asked me to sing backup for his various projects, it was unfamiliar territory to say the least. The learning curve was as steep as Kilimanjaro and I didn’t come prepared with my climbing boots. Instead, I strapped on 6 inch stilettos and memorized over 30 songs to be called out at any given time in random order during his shows. I was oh so not in control! It was his territory, not mine. I don’t say that to evoke aggression or pity; it was an amazing journey I am grateful for and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just want you to see what the concept of territory was for me during that time.

I remember after Jack’s single, “Love Interruption” came out, I often read about myself in internet commentary being referred to as “the black girl singer” on the song. People weren’t interested in who I was and that was a big pill to swallow for a while. Time danced on and I found my flow and most of those concerns began to not matter to me. I knew that I was good at my work (ahem, great) and the pride I felt for it caused me to look at myself in the mirror once I’d wiped all the makeup off and feel mighty good about who I was, regardless of whether or not the masses knew that I, Ruby Amanfu, was the name behind the voice.

When I stepped out of those stilettos and back onto my bare feet, the transition was one that I can’t call particularly difficult but I can’t say that it was easy, either. A lot of people who didn’t know me B.J. (Before Jack) often assume that my backup singing gig is how I began my career and anything I’ve pursued since then often gets a pat on the back and a “Good for you!” followed by the excited inquiry, “Have you seen 20 Feet from Stardom?”, to which I reply that I have and I reroute the convo to praise those badasses featured in that documentary whom I can’t hold a candle to. They’ve created a territory all their own that no solo artist can touch. Respect.

There have been serious perks, too, from those days of moonlighting as a backup singer - and still today from time to time. I’ve made rewarding relationships that my career hadn’t yet fully afforded me B.J. For instance, every now and again someone like Hozier or, um, I dunno, Enrique Iglesias may have their people call me to see if I’d be willing to take another hiatus from my solo artist endeavors to sing backup for them. Sometimes I say yes; sometimes I say no. It’s fun to know that I have the privilege and power to choose. The ball is in my court - and I’m ok with playing doubles from time to time.

 

About Ruby Amanfu:
Amanfu is a Ghana-born, Nashville-based critically acclaimed singer, writer & vocalist with accolades including the AP #1 Album of the Year w/ her duo Sam & Ruby, her well-praised debut solo album 'Standing Still', appearances on Beyonce’s "Don't Hurt Yourself", Jack White's "Love Interruption" & the television show 'Nashville'.

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