Karisa Wilson is an award-winning singer/songwriter based in Michigan. Her style is Americana; a jazzy vocal style with folk instrumentation, performing as either a soloist or with a string ensemble. Karisa performs original music with her guitar and violin.
Visit KarisaWilson.com for schedule info!
Her name is Karisa. Ka-REE-sa. Please don’t say it any other way.
Drives her crazy.
Karisa is from the Greek, XAPIS. It means grace.
When they gave her that name, her parents could not possibly have known that they would leave her so soon. The day before Karisa turned 29, she lost her mom. The next year, she lost her dad.
Overnight, Karisa became an orphan and, along with older sister Zoe, surrogate mother to younger brother Nathan and little sister Vida, just 16 years old.
“Everyone knows the cliché,” she says. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Not surprising that’s the title she chose for her second album: Stronger.
“It’s a lot to deal with… the loss, the aftermath,” she says. “I started getting panic-y, and I thought, I have to keep making music.”
So she wrote a song, Stronger, inspired by a friend who had survived breast cancer. And it became a bit of a mantra for her journey back from loss and grief.
“I don’t want to dwell on the dark things in life,” she says. “The album is part of a conscious effort to focus on what’s good. It encourages me, renews me.”
Now an accomplished vocalist and guitarist, Karisa started her musical journey as a classical violinist. In high school she found her voice, and after college she picked up a guitar.
As she played local gigs in West Michigan, demand for her unique soulful blend of jazz, blues and folk—think eclectic Americana—grew.
She completed the recording and production of her debut album, Little Girl -The August 2007 release party at the historical Wealthy Theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan was an overwhelming success.
“I was blown away when the event sold out,” she says. “They had to lock the doors.”
Karisa went on to capture the 2008 WYCE 'Best New Artist', as well as the coveted 'Album of the Year' Jammie awards.
Her parents are not here to witness her success. But their influence continues in her life every day as she works to forge connections through her music.
“I just try to be real,” she says. “I am writing from my life and experience. I try to get to that place in the music that is real.”
She says she can feel the moment when that happens, when performance becomes conviction.
Karisa performs solo as well as with the string ensemble.
She has shared the stage with national artists Pat Benatar, Sam Phillips, Billy Bob Thornton, Talib Kweli, Tim Reynolds, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The Subdudes and many others. She has performed and recorded with national artist Brian VanderArk (The Verve Pipe), and has often been a featured artist in the Meijer Garden's Summer Concert series. Favorite venues include, Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, The Living Room and The Bitter End in New York City, Wheatland Festival, Detroit's State Theater, Muskegon Summer Celebration, and several other songwriter showcases.
Karisa is a private instructor of violin, guitar and voice, and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband John.
Karisa Wilson - Guitar, Vocals, Violin, String Bass
"Little Girl" - 2007
"Sing for the Children" / "I'll Stand By You" - 2011
"Stronger" - 2012
RG Music: Karisa Wilson
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January 8, 2009 Karisa (pronounced Ka-ree-sa) Wilson’s improvisational, soulful sound has establish...January 8, 2009
Karisa (pronounced Ka-ree-sa) Wilson’s improvisational, soulful sound has established her as a key player in Grand Rapids’ thriving music scene. In addition to releasing her well-received 2007 debut album, Little Girl, the singer-songwriter has contributed to nearly 20 local albums in the past two years. She also writes a monthly hip-hop culture column for Recoil magazine, shining light on local artists in need of promotion. Preferring camaraderie to competition, she says she’s often inspired by her peers.
“I’ve been heavily influenced by local musicians," Wilson says. "I don’t sit around listening to CDs all the time, but I’ve been to all kinds of shows. I think in my songwriting and playing have been more influenced by people locally than on the radio. There’s a reason to keep our scene [alive], if not to influence the next generation, then other artists.”
“I’ve always been a musician,” says Wilson, who began classical violin training at age 10. She played faithfully during her teens and twenties, and it was while attending Calvin College that one of her suitemates taught her to play the guitar. After graduating in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish, she taught Spanish at West Side Christian School and Plymouth Christian High School. After a few years, Wilson quit teaching to pursue a full-time music career. Now 31, she says she has no regrets.
“I like teaching, but music is what I’m good at. I could envision getting older in that teacher’s lounge and regretting that I never took a chance.”
Taking a chance meant testing out her songs at open mic venues, equipped with her acoustic guitar and angelic voice. It also meant compiling the songs she’d written to make a jazz and blues-tinged folk album, which can be a tedious and expensive process. Thankfully, several local sponsors offered to help with the cost of promoting the album. Wilson’s father paid the artist who designed the album cover. He attended his daughter’s CD release party in August 2007, but passed away later that year from heart failure. Wilson’s mother passed away the previous year from cancer, and although living without her parents has been disillusioning, she says she doesn’t despair.
“I never in a million years would have thought I wouldn’t have my parents, but I’m a Christian, so I don’t feel that death is the end. It’s sad for me, but I know they’re in a better place. I still have memories of them.”
One of the memories Wilson carries with her relates to one of her songs, “The Best Years.” The chorus begins, “The best years of your life aren’t gone away,” but the “t” in aren’t is faint, and unless listening very carefully, the meaning of the song could be misconstrued.
“When I first wrote that song, I played it for my dad, and he wrote me the next day and was really concerned about some of the lyrics, about the best years being behind you. I said ‘no, that’s not the lyric. It’s the best years aren’t gone away. Aren’t.’ So now when I sing it I try to make it clear that it’s not a cry for help. No, I think the best years are the years that you’re living.”
The Debut Album
Although Wilson began her music career as a solo artist, she wanted to form a band when it came time to record Little Girl and perform for the album debut concert. She now frequently performs as a four-piece band with Lou Musa (lead guitar), Mark Lundell (bass) and Eddie Eicher (drums). Little Girl was a huge success at the CD release party at Wealthy Theatre, where Wilson performed a sold-out show.
“I really didn’t expect that many people to come,” although she admits her strong work ethic paid off. “I worked really, really hard. I did everything. I was on every radio station. I sang at the ball game. I plastered the town with posters. I was in every bar handing out stuff. I took out ads. I did just about everything you can do.”
In February 2008, Wilson received more good news. She and Little Girl won WYCE Jammie awards for “Best New Local Artist” and “Album of the Year.”
“The big deal to me was winning the Album of the Year award because that’s the big award. That’s what Amy Winehouse won on the Grammy level. I was just flabbergasted. I can say I’m an award-winning songwriter now. It’s not local yokel; it’s for real. There are a lot of great artists who are doing really good things.”
Some of the musicians Wilson reveres are hip-hop artists, and she often features them in her monthly hip-hop culture column for Recoil magazine. Since she began writing the column three years ago, local hip-hop artists have continually asked her to sing on their albums. She has complied, and says her hope in writing the column is to “reiterate that hip-hop is a culture and not just a genre of music.”
“There are so many wonderful artists and I think that there’s a pretty receptive audience for the music. Listening to hip-hop is like going to an art museum. You have to be open to hear the lyrics and what they mean.”
In addition to writing for Recoil magazine, Wilson teaches guitar, violin and voice lessons four days a week, both in Grand Rapids and Grand Haven. She also continues to perform both locally and nationally with her band and the retro rock band, Rockit King. Her sophomore album is in the works, too, and she’s already written half of the songs, including singles “Greener Pastures” and “Patience.” She plans to release it sometime within the next two years, saying she doesn’t want to rush herself.
“I’m earnestly trying to make sure my next album isn’t Little Girl number two. I'd like to work with some people outside of the folk genre. I don't intend to make a hip-hop album, but have found that those folks are very well-rounded in their musical tastes and often bring fresh perspective and edge to new music. I don't intend to abandon my acoustic roots though, and will most likely have plenty of that acoustic influence on the album. I love the rawness of a piece of wood, a few strings and you. You can't hide behind anything. Either it's good or it isn't.”
Direct Link: http://www.rapidgrowthmedia.com/features/rgmusicwilliams010809.aspx
Wide Eyed of Los Angeles
Link to Wide-Eyed Mag's blog: http://wideeyed.tumblr.com/
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It’s been an emotional year for Karisa Wilson. Last August she released her debut album Little Girl,...It’s been an emotional year for Karisa Wilson. Last August she released her debut album Little Girl, and in February it earned WYCE’s coveted Jammie Award for best album of 2007. Unfortunately, Wilson has faced as much tragedy as triumph. In November, her father passed away unexpectedly, a year and a half after losing her mother to cancer. In some ways, the singer feels that enduring this has changed her.
“I still feel like a little girl sometimes, but now I have to make a lot of big decisions without the people I relied on for counsel. Also, I have a younger sister still in high school, so I have to kind of act as a parent,” she says. Wilson is very grateful to her parents for providing her with so much. “We never had a lot of money, but they bought my instruments and paid for my lessons,” Karisa recalls. “The cover art on my new album was a gift from my dad.”
Despite her loss, Karisa is moving forward with her music. A veteran of the Grand Rapids music scene, she has played with an impressive
range of local bands. She recently abandoned her longtime role as host of open-mic night at Rocky’s where her enthusiasm and warm personality made the stage feel like home to local musicians.
Before hosting, Karisa cut her teeth as a songwriter at Rocky’s, trying out new material. She began
playing guitar to develop as a songwriter. “I wanted to write more songs and guitar gives me more freedom to do that.” As a guitarist she is entirely self-taught, admitting, that her ear training and finger technique
skills as a violinist have given her an advantage. Even so, the real secret to her success is simple: dedication and hard work.
This is evident in Karisa’s new album. Working with Greg Baxter in his home studio, Karisa crafted Little Girl from the ground up. “I had to decide for every song what instrumentation I was going to use, what musicians I wanted, how to get them and everything
else. It was a serious project. There was always something to do from deciding on cover art to staying
in touch with the reproducers to make sure I had copies in time for the release party,” Wilson explains.
Karisa is already planning a tour, starting regionally and expand outward. This, too, demands a lot of work. “Sometimes you send out fifty press kits and only one gets a response, but that response can get you booked someplace new.” This effort has already netted her upcoming gigs in Indianapolis and Chicago.
She plans to tour nationally and perhaps even internationally within the next few years. In the mean time, fans can still catch her performing around Grand Rapids, and pick up her CD through iTunes, CD Baby (cdbaby.com/cd/karisawilson) for $12.97, as well as at Schuler Books, Vertigo, and Beat Goes On.
Festival of the Arts Calder Stage, June 7
Billy’s Lounge, June 12
Music in the Park, Saugatuck, July 9
One Trick Pony, August 21
Grand Rapids Press
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http://blog.mlive.com/grpress/2008/02/wilson_leads_the_pack_in_jammi.html GRAND RAPIDS -- It was ...http://blog.mlive.com/grpress/2008/02/wilson_leads_the_pack_in_jammi.html
GRAND RAPIDS -- It was a very good night for Karisa Wilson.
The Grand Rapids singer-songwriter, guitarist and fiddler not only nabbed the best local album of the year award at Tuesday night's Jammie Awards, presented by WYCE-FM (88.1), she also was named best new local artist.
And the all-female string band she once played for, Nobody's Darlin', won the award for best new local folk debut for its album, "This World is Not my Home."
Wilson, a fixture on West Michigan's music scene who also has had stints with rock's Sweet Japonic and hip-hop's La Famiglia, released her long-awaited solo debut album, "Little Girl," in August.
La Famiglia, led by Mike G, shared best new local rock debut honors on Tuesday with "truckabilly" band Truckstop Cobras.
Held for the first time in Wealthy Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St. SE, the 2008 Jammie Awards, which honor the best in West Michigan's music in several genres, attracted nearly 400 local fans and musicians for an evening of award presentations and performances by 15 bands and artists.
Here are Tuesday's Jammies' winners:
Various artists album
"Grand Rapids Compilation Vol. 3"
Fonn Morr, "Along the Way"
Tinker's Tea, "The Mummer's Jig"
Steppin' In It with Rachael Davis, "Shout Sister Shout"
Four Finger Five, "Enormous Pocket"
Root Doctor, "Change Our Ways"
Blue Moon Blues Band, "Cool, Cool River"
The Icicles, "Arrivals & Departures"
Rock debut (tie)
La Famiglia, "The Getaway"
Truckstop Cobras, "Live at Juke's Joint"
Daisy May, "Mother Moon"
Nobody's Darlin', "This World Is Not My Home"
New local artist
Karisa Wilson, "Little Girl"
Daisy May, "Rise Up Singing"
Local album of the year
Karisa Wilson, "Little Girl"
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Alumni Profile • Karisa Wilson '99 Finding her voice When she listens to her album, Karisa Wil...Alumni Profile • Karisa Wilson '99
Finding her voice
When she listens to her album, Karisa Wilson '99 remembers a little girl drifting through her parents' house, wailing. Not unhappy—just experimenting, vocally. “Even then,” she said, “I was trying to find my voice.”
Titled Little Girl, the CD was released at a sold-out Wealthy Theater concert in Grand Rapids last August. In February, the recording was named best local album of the year by Grand Rapids community radio station WYCE-FM. The recording is Wilson's first and features her jazz- and blues-flavored vocals and acoustic guitar on tunes that hint at the many styles she's played in her music career.
“I'm learning to say ‘no' sometimes when people ask me to play with them,” Wilson said. That's now. But when she was starting out, newly graduated and trying to find her place in music, it was helpful to say “yes” a lot.
In 2000, Wilson was teaching high school Spanish by day and by night playing violin with Sweet Japonic, a band well known in west Michigan's live music scene. Other musicians heard her, and as a result, Wilson said, “I got asked to play with all kinds of groups”—heavy metal, hip-hop, bluegrass—“some of them good, some not so good.”
Wilson had played classical violin with the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Calvin's orchestra. With Sweet Japonic and other bands, she learned “to transition from reading music on the page to creating music in the moment.”
But after a time she began to feel the instrument trapped her. “I had grown as a musician to the place where I wasn't happy being the violin girl in the corner who doesn't have a place on every tune and therefore doesn't have a whole lot of say in the creative process of the band,” Wilson said. “I really felt I had more to offer.”
So she picked up an acoustic guitar and began with the few chords a Calvin suitemate had taught her years before. Soon she had written a song. Nearly sick with nervousness, she took her guitar and new song to an open mic night. “I got good feedback,” Wilson said. “I think people were surprised I could sing.”
She kept going to open mic venues—two or three a week—and writing songs. One of those venues asked her to host its open mic night. In 2002 she had her first solo gig, opening for a band at Aquinas College.
Six-plus years after her nerve-wracking open mic debut, Wilson recorded and released her CD. “Long overdue,” she said of it. But she's already thinking about the next one. “This is my job now.”
Besides hosting an open mic night at a local bar and performing, Wilson teaches private lessons to support herself. It's not as secure as a teaching job, but, Wilson said, “I want everything to revolve around music now. It's the only thing I feel I'm really good at; it's the talent God has given me, and I don't want to bury it.”
These days, Wilson finds her music changing. Her mother died in 2006 and her father last November, leaving her to help care for a teenaged sister. She's turned 30. And, she said, “The Holy Spirit has been working in me. I'm more grateful for blessings. Even the experiences that have been hard, I see, have often become the most precious. I want my music to reflect that.”
To see and hear more of Karisa Wilson, visit www.karisawilson.com.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008 Kalamazoo
Award-winning songwriter Karisa Wilson basking in '07 buzz
LAWTON -- Up until last year, Grand Rapids singer/songwriter Karisa Wilson was a recognized talent in several respected regional bands but was somewhat relegated to the background.
When she went solo, the attention was all hers -- and people responded with resounding support.
Wilson, a former member of the hip-hop group La Famiglia, the rock band Sweet Japonic and the all-female string band Nobody's Darlin', set out on her own releasing her debut ``Little Girl,'' last summer. Her CD release show was sold-out, and in February she took home Jammie Awards for best new artist and album of the year. The Jammies is an annual award for independent West Michigan musicians presented by WYCE-FM (88.1).
``I didn't expect to win the Jammies. I'm extremely pleased and happy about it, blown away. I'm used to other people doing well...I didn't know people were listening and enjoying it,'' Wilson said during a phone interview from Grand Rapids.
Wilson combines rock, R&B, folk and Latin influences into a soulful pop experience. She's a classically-trained violinist, taking lessons from members of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and at Calvin College. She taught herself guitar. Unfortunately for us, she hasn't performed locally. That'll change when she plays with her band -- guitarist Lou Musa, bassist Mark Lundell and drummer Eddie Eicher -- at 8 p.m. Friday at the Old Hat Brewery, 114 N. Main St. in Lawton.
She gushes when she talks about last year's success, applauding her community for its support. She said she didn't know what to expect by going solo but thinks people responded to her putting herself ``out there.'' Plus, ``I think the CD was good, too.''
She hopes Friday's gig will lead to more in this area. Her recipe for live shows -- she performed last July for presidential hopeful Barack Obama at a fundraising party in Grand Rapids -- is simple: She reads her audience and responds.
``If they give a little, they'll get a lot,'' Wilson said.
Wildy's World: Cd Review Karisa Wilson - Little Girl
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Karisa Wilson is a classically trained violinist who never really picked up a guitar until a couple ...Karisa Wilson is a classically trained violinist who never really picked up a guitar until a couple of years out of college. Since that time she has developed a musical style that meshes Latin, jazz, blues and soul influences into classic folk music. Her debut album, Little Girl is something of a musical revelation.
Karisa Wilson likes to keep her musical options open. Dancing through Little Girl changing musical styles like Celine Dion changes outfits in a concert, Wilson weaves a magical story in music and verse. From the Latin jazz introduction (Promenade) to the wailing call of Adore to the bluesy Old Dog, Karisa Wilson keeps you on your toes. She combines a powerful voice with gorgeous acoustic arrangements and intelligent lyrics to offer up a palette full of many colors, influences and timbres.
Open Chord Lullaby is perhaps my favorite song on the album, sporting a very memorable melody and a mix of sass and sensibility that is highly intriguing. Other highlights include Indiana; Luke's Song and What Do We Do Now?
Little Girl is a very strong debut album and an ample introduction to Karisa Wilson. I suspect she'll be offering up recordings for many years to come.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)
Open Chord Lullaby
What Do We Do Now?
The Promised Land
The Best Years
Just Leave Me Alone
The Promised Land
There are no upcoming dates at this time.