Her Southern drawl infects you. Her softly strummed guitar unwittingly draws you in. So what? you say. In a world of copiously burgeoning musicians, Emma Wynters is special.
She's got quite an impressive hat collection, metaphorically speaking. For nine months out of the year she's seventh-grade schoolteacher Mary Ann Rankin. But with the remainder of her time, she wears many other hats, including her favorite: the musical artist cap, assuming the identity of singer-songwriter-guitarist Emma Wynters. If you've heard a tune from Emma Wynters, you're probably hoping the jazz, blues and country tunes never end.
In the beginning, many people pushed her in the direction of country, but she resisted. I guess it was too easy to label a woman from the Delta with a distinct Southern drawl, an acoustic guitar and her own songs about life as "country."
"It's not that I don't like country," she says, "but my true passion is blues and jazz." And that's what it's all about for Emma Wynters. It's about being herself in a world that is always try to mold us according to its expectations. It's about playing music without being trapped in a particular genre.
You've probably seen her perform with local bands and musicians like the Electric Company, Chris Gill, Scott Albert Johnson, Mark Whittington and Fingers Taylor, to name a few. You've probably even heard her playing at your favorite local bar or restaurant, because she's been having fun all over Jackson and the surrounding areas (Fenian's, Martin's, Hal & Mal's, Archestratus, Gravity, A.J.'s Bar and Grill, Joker's). Whether she's sweetly singing Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" or projecting the deeper, throatier sound she's more recently developed, the versatility of Wynters' voice will impress you. Though she shies away from labels, her music seems to be country with a jazz-bluesy feel or jazz-blues with a country feel, depending on your perspective.
Wynters has performed solo, in a duo and in a trio, but says her favorite way to perform is with a full band. "This is what 'Mississippi Madness' should sound like," she says of her performances with harmonica player Fingers Taylor and guitarist Mark Whittington at Martin's.
This is not simply a traditional twelve-bar blues song, but the expression of her deep, earthy voice accompanied by the simplicity of harmonica melodies and intertwining acoustic guitars that produce a purely unique and equally balanced feel of blues, country and jazz.
Along with her originals, she also plays cover songs like Bonnie Raitt's "Turn Down the Lights," Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" and the classic ballad "House of Rising Sun." She performs the covers with her own flavor because as she says, "I'm not doing their version, but definitely doing my own thing with it." Whether it's applying a Celtic feel to "House of Rising Sun" or bringing jazz, blues and country to "Mississippi Madness," the range of her voice will drive you mad—in a good way.
Whether she's describing the time a waitress put a tip in her jar from a man who requested that Wynters "play softer" or her first live band performance, she does it all with charming, heartfelt laughter and enthusiasm.
She describes her first live performance with a band at New Orleans Café as a "very surreal experience." After she had performed three originals to a crowd of local musicians, she says, "The Electric Co. told me they would record me no charge. So I paid them with cookies and beer. … They thought I was an alcoholic at Kroger with all my cases of beer." As any musician knows, only a special artist would ever be allowed to pay for recording time this way.
New musicians constantly search for that niche that will define their identity, garner them respect, and provide them with fame and fortune. Wynters, like all artists, hopes for success. But she sums up her attitude toward her music when she says: "When I'm singing, I'm happy. If I don't ever get any more famous than I am now, that's fantastic, because then I don't have to worry about pleasing anybody."
She thinks constantly about how to reconcile the two personalities: Mary Ann and Emma together, like true partners in crime, make one whole, says Wynters. No identity-searching is necessary for this artist. She's already got a number of them—teacher, mother, songwriter, musician and artist.
After a while, the answer comes to her, and she says, "Emma is an extension of Mary Ann; they just wear different hats."