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The Interview: Amber Knicole

No one puts Amber Knicole in a box. Knicole isn’t easily defined by any one musical genre. She sings: neo funk, soul, jazz, classical, pop, or musical theater. The daughter of career military parents, Knicole is used to being on the move. Knicole returned to Columbus, where she lived as a child for a few [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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No one puts Amber Knicole in a box.

Knicole isn’t easily defined by any one musical genre. She sings: neo funk, soul, jazz, classical, pop, or musical theater. The daughter of career military parents, Knicole is used to being on the move.

Knicole returned to Columbus, where she lived as a child for a few years, as an undergraduate at Capital University on a full-tuition scholarship and stayed to become the lead vocalist of MojoFlo, now one of Columbus’ top original bands. But even after a decade of well-deserved success and an anticipated full-length album release in 2018, she isn’t staying still, as evidenced by her recent turn in Short North Stage’s production of Dreamgirls.

Even just sitting with Knicole and watching her luminous smile, I have no problem imagining her in a difficult choreography rehearsal, in a training session on aerial silks, or pursuing a possible future career in entertainment law. (She’s interested.) A dynamic presence in whatever venue she graces, Knicole continues to expand her vision of herself while staying on top of her primary goal: to bring sound and happiness to others.

How did you find your voice?

I started singing in church when I was a kid, when I was four. And that’s how I discovered I liked to sing—but I wouldn’t even say that I actually found my voice until very recently. I’ve always known that I liked to sing and all. But there’s been a lot of growth, I feel, personally with myself and just really discovering who I am and what I want. And then actually finding that balance to get to somewhere I’m happy with what I’m doing and I’m also putting out something that is positive and making people happy. I don’t just want to be singing just to be singing, and I don’t want to just sing. I want to do a lot of different things. But it’s really that I want to make other people feel good—bring joy and light to people. And that’s been something that’s been important to me. I feel like I’m just now getting to really own who I am and be comfortable with that.

Tell me about the beginning of MojoFlo. Was that a college gig?

Yes. I was the last piece of MojoFlo. The two people who started it were our guitar player, George, and Walter, the saxophone player. They were roommates freshman year of college and started a band together. They decided they needed a singer and I was asked to rehearse. April of 2008 was my first gig and I’ve not looked back since. It’s been a joy. Columbus has been fantastic to us.

MoJoFlo is extremely accessible to everyone, and I’m most proud of that. We’ve done a really good job at putting out a positive, all-inclusive, empowering music … and a show that just makes people feel good.

You majored in political science and international business. How did that happen?

Well…in my house it was always about business and learning the business of music. My parents always wanted me to know how to run a business or myself as a business. I was also supposed to be going to law school after undergraduate … I’m okay with it. I’m happy that I have that background because it’s really helped me out in my music career—to be bold, and to know that I’m smart, know that I’m intelligent, and know that I know what I’m talking about when I have to get into a room with a booking agent. You have to negotiate your contracts. I’ve had to settle [MojoFlo’s] bills. I’ve had to go into an office and get money, and people at the end of the night sometimes forget what they guaranteed you when they booked the gig. So I think that my background and my schooling really did help me have that fortitude.

Our conversation eventually turns to family, career, and how reality TV has changed the music industry. At 17, Knicole traveled to Las Vegas to audition for American Idol.

I completely blew it. I got nervous. I got in there. I was in front of the executive producers and I recognized one of them, and I walked in and I was just like [gasps] “This is crazy.” I’d never seen cameras this big. Huge cameras. Huge everything. All the lights. Totally bombed. I also auditioned for The Voice, and I probably just picked the wrong song there. What I saw with American Idol and The Voice was that unfortunately a lot of it is [that] if you don’t fit into a type that’s already out there: the indie girl, the soulful African-American, the soulful white chick or white guy, the soulful sound in the unexpected package, the country guy, the country girl. There’s all these boxes that you have to fit in, and if you don’t—they can’t really use you. I understand marketability and all that stuff, so I get it from a straight-up business side of looking if you can sell a product. And that’s what you have to understand: You are a product. Your music is a product. And that’s a hard connection to make when you’re making music from your heart and you’re making music from your soul. But I do like [TV singing competitions]. It’s entertaining. Once you kind of see the formulas they’re working with, you can start to understand how all that works, I think it’s a really great look into the industry.

The season one audition of American Idol was hilarious.

Auditions really were like that. I saw people in chicken suits, and I’m like, “Why are you here in a chicken suit? You know how long it took me to flip my hair like this?”

Congratulations on your run as Effie White in Dreamgirls at the Short North Stage. Tell me about that experience.

It was phenomenal. It was amazing. It was every great adjective you could think of wrapped into a five-week run with an extremely talented, warm, and loving cast. We had a great time together. The girls enjoyed each other. We all shared a dressing room. And that room was on 100 every day. Energy. Jokes. Just fun stuff. [The show] challenged me in a way that I’m used to being challenged, but I haven’t been challenged like that in about 10 years. I used to do musicals, and musicals are incredibly difficult to do. There’s a million and one things that are going through your head beyond just singing the notes right. It made me discipline myself in a way that I haven’t had to [when] doing original music, doing an original show, and being my own musical director and [instead] learning someone else’s music. Learning all of that was a new, yet familiar experience and came right on time for me.

I bring up the the thought that from South Pacific to West Side Story to Hamilton, no other stage form has examined the concept of race like the American musical. Knicole tells me about a scene in Dreamgirls where a white pop group covers a more popular version of the Dreamettes’ song “Cadillac Car.”

The thing is, this isn’t a black man writing this musical. I think that’s why it’s extremely important to tell stories when you have the platform, to tell the stories of those…whose voices have been marginalized. That’s how you help. [At this time] with the administration, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with cops killing black children. People are scared. People are questioning. People are really asking…ok, what can we do to help? You can start by telling the stories and handing your platform over to those who have been marginalized and let them speak, not necessarily speak for them. That’s why I love musical theater for that. I think that the theater and music are two very effective vehicles to stimulate change, to stimulate discussion, and to stimulate compassion. You have to reach people when they’re not so vulnerable. So you’re going out to the theater, you’re going out to have a good time. I saw Rent when I was…in high school. I didn’t know about gay men like that. I didn’t know about gay women like that. I didn’t know about anything. All I knew was that I cried like a baby when Angel died [of AIDS].

I love Angel. I still can’t listen to the “I’ll Cover You” reprise without losing it.

At that moment, I was like, “I’m not questioning this anymore. What is there to question?” That’s theater though. Theater and music will expose you to a world you know nothing of. And [you] come to find out, you’re in love with these people…because [theater] humanizes everything.

MojoFlo will celebrate their 10th anniversary 1.27 @ Rumba Cafe. For more, visit mojoflomusic.com.

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Former OSU player starts career as Columbus Firefighter

614now Staff

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Former Buckeye and New Orleans Saints running back running back Antonio Pittman is trading the pads and helmet of the gridiron for a fire hose and a...different helmet in his new career, according to ABC6.

https://twitter.com/mariawsyx6/status/1228415062051819520?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fabc6onyourside.com%2Fnews%2Flocal%2Fformer-ohio-state-nfl-running-back-opens-new-chapter-as-a-columbus-firefighter

Having recently graduated from the Columbus Fire Academy, Pittman is now on his first week on the job at fire station 12 on the city's west side.

A native of Akron, Pittman played for Ohio State from 2004 to 2006, and was part of the number 1 ranked team that defeated number 2 Michigan 42-39 in the "Game of the Century."

Pittman was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but was forced to retire from the NFL following a persistent knee injury.

"My goal was just to play football and honestly, I did that. And the dream was to have a ten-year career and to retire at 32 years old and be off in the sunset and just living comfortably. But you know, plans change and in life, you have to adapt to the change," Pittman told ABC6.

"My goal was to one day give back to a community, a city that's given me so much. A city that changed my whole outlook on life as a kid growing up in Akron."

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The Rest Is History: Couples in Columbus share their stories of falling in love

Mitch Hooper

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Illustration by Sarah Moore

If Hollywood would ever pick up a romantic comedy about a couple falling in love in Columbus, how would it look? Would it be an epic story ending in an intimate proposal on the Scioto Mile, or two strangers bumping into each other at the Varsity Club on game day?

Funny enough, both are very plausible.

This month, we wanted to answer the question: what do love stories in Columbus look like? And what we found is sometimes love stories don’t happen in Columbus; instead they happen because of Columbus. While some folks were high school sweethearts who rekindled the flame, others struck up conversation in countries far away just because they shared the same ZIP code. In part, where you’re from shapes who you are, and for these couples, the capital city holds a special spot in their hearts. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Rachel Grauer and Aaron Guilkey

Aaron and I first met in the early 2000s at Eli Pinney Elementary in Dublin. He was my first boyfriend in fourth grade and broke my heart on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger, for the young folk). We didn’t speak a word to each other all of high school, thank you high school social hierarchy. I went on to OU and he to OSU. We reconnected after college while on a bar crawl in the Short North and the rest is history. We are getting married September 2020!

Lauren Sheridan and David Tripp

All of this is true: We met at a Clippers baseball game. It was a team outing for work. I worked with his mom and she was setting us up. This story is meant to be a complete disaster. Thankfully, it wasn’t. Our first o cial date was at 16-Bit, where we would take our engagement pictures over two years later. He lived in Arizona for 10 years before moving back to Columbus in 2016. It’s been fun reintroducing him to the city, especially our food and beer scene. I can’t imagine having these adventures with anyone else.

Misty and Erin Dickinson

We met at Rendezvous Hair Salon, where she is a hairstylist. Then we spent time together at Drauma at the Bluestone, followed by a night out for a Nina West show at Axis complete with dinner at Union and after party drinks at Macs. We were with my friends and I o ered to walk her to her car which had been towed because, well, Columbus. I stayed with her until we finally found her car at 3 a.m. We started hanging out a lot after that while we both swore we were “just friends”! Almost five years later and we are back in Columbus after a two year move to Tampa. We married (twice, but the story will be way over 100 words! Second time at LaNavona), and have a thousand Columbus stories. Columbus is our home. The place we love and always come back to. There is no place like it.

Kellie Anne and Carl Rainey

I moved to Columbus from LA in 2014 and met my now-husband a month after the move. We found out quickly that we were both California sports fans and went on our first date on Halloween. Lakers vs. Clippers was on the TV at the bar, so we made a bet and the loser had to pick up the tab. My Clippers beat his Lakers, so he had to pay up. We’ve been inseparable ever since. We got married March 23, 2019, and I’m so happy to call Columbus my forever home now!

Daniel Custer and Jenny Harris

I met Jenny on a wine cruise in Santorini, Greece. I saw her from across the pier before we boarded and knew I wanted to chat her up—she was gorgeous. She and her friends sat by me on the catamaran and we began telling one another where we were from. When it got to Jenny, she said she was from Columbus. I said, “Where?!” and she said “Grandview!” We spent the rest of the weekend together, along with the past three years.

Brittany and Ethan Monk

We met as employees at Scioto Country Club in UA. He was a broke server and I was a broke student working as a hostess. We spent many holidays away from family but with each other. We are complete opposites that were impossibly attracted to one another. We married and have 2 children. Still opposites—I work in clinical research and he is a musician and stay-at-home dad. We both have made Columbus our home!

Nicole Erdeljac and Andrew Crowell

We spent the day (separately) at the 2019 Memorial Tournament and were hanging out at the Bogey Inn afterwards. He was standing at the bar and I was behind him, waiting to be served. His friend kept accidentally hitting my shoulder while trying to reach over me to get his attention. I was visibly annoyed when he asked me to tap him. But, I did. We spent the rest of the night dancing to the live band and had our first date a week later at the Columbus Arts Fest, once again, dancing to the live sounds of Anderson East. The rest is history!

Tracie Lynn and Adam Douglas Keller

It was one month to the day after my mother had lost her battle to cancer in 2007. It was one of my favorite nights for being out in Columbus—Red, White, and Boom. After my sister’s and my friend’s group persistently encouraged us to go out for fireworks and time with friends, we agreed. We needed something light and fun. What could possibly come of that?

I’ll never forget the moment that I made eye contact with this handsome, tall and smiling man. He had happened to be out with a mutual friend of our group. We made small talk, listened to live bands, and, well—the rest is history. Nearly 13 years later, we now have two great kids, two dogs, and a rich, full life in Columbus. This is the city we met in, and the one we made a life in. I couldn’t ask for a better love story.

Rebecca Scha er and Peter Yeager

We met at Ledo’s, the first bar on our OSU senior bar crawl list. Flash forward 12 hours later at World of Beer, we bumped into each other again and he handed me a raw russet potato with his name and number written on it in Sharpie. Super weird and random but it did the trick. I called him my soul mate to his face that night. Last winter he took me around town. We stopped at both those bars, reminiscing about our time together. He asked me to be his wife in the middle of the same World of Beer where he gave me that first potato, hiding the ring in a large toy Mrs. Potato head. There’s no other way I would have liked the beginning of our story to go.

Victoria and Ryan Metzinger

I met my amazing husband in Columbus on a blind date set up by mutual friends (sounds very 1995, but it was actually 2011). He suggested a casual drink at Grandview Cafe and I upped the ante for dinner at Third & Hollywood. We continued to Spagio and ended at Grandview Cafe and the rest is history! Now, with two beautiful boys, our WiFi network will always be labeled “Third and Hollywood” as an ode to the perfect setting for a first date. We also visit the restaurant every year on our anniversary and it will never lose its luster.

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The Interview Issue: Author Saeed Jones

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Saeed Jones has traveled across the country promoting his new memoir and chosen Columbus for his own next chapter.

Author and new Columbus transplant Saeed Jones finally has a break after wrapping up his 16-city tour to promote his new memoir How We Fight for Our Lives. It’s a book that isn’t solely about his past, but is designed as an earnest conversation with readers. The book succeeds Jones’ previous poetry collections and a stint as Executive Editor of Culture at BuzzFeed, and is already receiving numerous honors and highly- publicized acclaim.

“It took a long time to write the book, almost a decade. So, I had a lot of time to think about writing it [being] one thing, but when you publish it, it becomes something different. I tried not to think so much about other people and the audience, but I think I trusted that if I could write to myself sincerely [and] candidly, that would be a bridge for other people,” he said. “It’s like you’re encountering someone when they just had a transformative experience. Something that’s really important for me in my writing is the cost of silence and the ways we silence ourselves. I think it’s powerful—as a writer, with the fortune I’ve had in my career—for people to be like, ‘I’m going through it’, and for me to be one more person who goes, ‘Me too.’”

Though some authors intend to tell their stories later in life, Jones wanted to focus his story on the time period from his upbringing in Texas through his mid-twenties to capture a specific ethos that informed his narrative. Concerned that segments of his life would become deemed irrelevant to readers, he found the immediacy of the news sparked him to publish the book sooner than later. Soon after Jones considered writing in detail about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, which shifted the LGBTQ+ conversation, the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting occurred.

“Whenever I would get a little hard on myself about the book’s intentions, it felt like America would go, ‘We gotta do this now,’” Jones said. ”Everything’s not perfect but a lot has changed from 1998. [While writing,] I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’ll be a perfect book, but it’s gonna be the book that I want and need now.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After his mother’s passing in 2011, Jones is attentive to their relationship in How We Fight for Our Lives, endearingly dedicating the book to her even after a moment of uncertainty that occurred when he came out. In spite of having a vibrant relationship with his mother, Jones jokes that the two weren’t able to naturally discuss sexuality. Promoting the memoir before Thanksgiving, Jones mentions that some LGBTQ+ readers confided in him about their own awkward conversations with family.

“Sure, it’s important for us to write about clear and present danger, whether that’s police brutality, homophobic or racially-driven violence, [but] I think that it’s also important for us to pay attention to the more subtle hurts that come to define us. Sometimes those hurts are a result of failings; loved ones who just can’t support us because they’re like ‘I don’t get it’ and they kind of give up,” he said. “My mom was working two jobs, so a lot of times she was just tired. She was like, ‘Sorry, we can’t have a heartfelt conversation today, I gotta go to my second job.’ That had an impact on me, and I know that has an impact on a lot of other people in those moments. In any meaningful, long-lasting relationships—certainly family relationships—it is going to be complicated. If you don’t have multiple colors in how you’re thinking about that relationship, the truth is that something is being deadened, something is being intentionally or unintentionally ignored or silenced.”

An avid reader of works by Margaret Atwood and Audre Lorde, Jones recognizes a similar urgency from his memoir through his influence James Baldwin, admitting to reading his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room repeatedly, revisiting it at different points of his life to gain a new perspective. Identifying with different characters each time, Jones focused essentially on Baldwin’s deconstruction of queerness and social dynamics, which intersected American politics with racial identity. “[Baldwin] wasn’t going to pretend that there was this monolithic Blackness. He wasn’t just going to pretend that there weren’t Black men—who he was advocating for in terms of civil rights— who weren’t homophobic. He was like ‘We’re gonna do all this together’” Jones said. “He’s drawing from his background in Christianity, but he’s changed; he’s not practicing his faith in the same way. He [was] just doing a very good job of showing how we’re in flux and that it’s natural and better to embrace that. I feel like that set me up to start paying attention.”

Habitually enthusiastic about settling in Columbus (or what he calls “the promised land”), Jones speaks gleefully about The Great Migration and Ohio boasting essential Black authors—Paul Laurence Dunbar, Jacqueline Woodson, Hanif Abdurraqib and Toni Morrison. While he notes that Black authors have thrived

in Ohio through a formidable writing scene, in How We Fight for Our Lives, Jones touches keenly on the fragility of Black life. Days prior to our conversation marked the one-year anniversary of the death of 16-year-old Julius Tate, who was shot by Columbus police during a sting operation.

“If we’re able to villainize people we have wronged—and Julius was certainly wronged—it eases the rhetoric of brushing the wrong aside,” Jones said. “It happens so often and so much of our culture grooms all of us to move on. I’m not the one to say what justice for Julius and for Black people impacted by that violence looks like, but I would love to hear it. I have no interest in telling people to be quiet. I’m a writer, so I think a lot about editing and revision, and how you polish and the drafts you don’t want people to see. Cities are text, too.”

While Columbus continues to be a work in progress through systematic tensions, Jones is embracing the city’s tangible LGBTQ+ scene after residing in New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco. In support of the Black Queer & Intersectional Collective, he attended the Columbus March for Black Trans Women in November, where he felt a sense of cohesiveness within the city. “I feel like the march was a great example of waking me up—unsurprisingly, it’s easier for cisgender gay men to live and feel embraced here than Black trans women in Columbus,” Jones said. “The stakes are high, but it feels possible. Here it feels like, ‘start reading up, go to that march, talk to people,’ as opposed to ‘here’s the finished story.’”

With a story far from over, Jones reveals that his next life work is to write about joy to balance the scales with his past struggle within How We Fight for Our Lives. Avidly writing about pain and loss, he vows to dabble into more written frameworks outside of his comfort zone. “I feel like I’ve written about myself so damn much, maybe learning to write in other forms—fiction—would be fun. I want to learn more, I feel that’s when I’m most alive, when I’m learning and realizing that I’m learning,” he said. “That’s when I feel fully present as a person, not when I think I know the beginning, middle and end.”

Follow Saeed Jones on Twitter and Instagram at @theferocity.

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