Jarekus Singleton, a rising young blues singer and guitarist from Clinton, Mississippi, tells his own story in “Keep Pushin’,” a song on his Alligator Records debut, “Refuse to Lose.”
A performing musician since he was 9, playing music five days a week in his grandfather’s church, Singleton became a college basketball star in his teens. He made the game the biggest part of his life but kept the guitar his grandfather gave him close by.
In his senior year, Singleton’s plans to join the NBA suffered a devastating blow when he badly injured his ankle. In “Keep Pushin’,” he recalls his bright basketball years and the on-court mishap that brought them to a halt.
“Back in 2007, I averaged 25 points per game,” sings Singleton, now 29. “Top 5 in the nation in points and assists, had everybody screaming my name. Had two NBA tryouts, with the Pacers and the Cavaliers. Then I had an injury ... derailed my basketball career.”
Suddenly an ex-basketball star, Singleton turned his full attention to music.
He’d grown up in a family of singers and musicians, including his guitar-playing, singing, preaching maternal grandfather, pastor of the True Gospel Church of God and Christ in Jackson, Mississippi.
“I got cousins and brothers and aunties and uncles who all played music and sang in the choir,” Singleton said. “It was a family church, so we were always on the forefront keeping the music together.”
Singleton’s grandfather, a strict patriarch, condemned secular music.
“If anybody was doing anything other than gospel, my granddaddy probably would have wrung everybody’s neck,” Singleton said. “He preached against secular music. He preached against going to the movies. He preached against everything.”
Singleton’s mother rebelled against her father’s teachings. She loved the music of Whitney Houston, the Jackson 5, Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin.
“So she was listening to those records around the house,” Singleton remembered. “That’s how I got to hear secular music. That’s where a lot of my influence comes from.”
Singleton’s mom not only left her father’s church, she was determined that her youngest son be free to pursue whatever path he wished to follow.
“In a lot of ways, she hadn’t been allowed to be a child,” he said. “She didn’t want me to grow up sheltered like she did. I’m extremely thankful for that.”
Singleton’s uncle, who also performed at the family church, helped him find his musical way, too.
“My uncle was listening to rap and R&B and blues,” Singleton said. “I found out about Albert King from him. We listened to a lot of music growing up.”
The story Singleton tells in his song “Keep Pushin’” continues: “Growing up in Mississippi, I’m hearing blues all over town. My uncle told me, ‘Play ball all you want, but don’t never put that guitar down.’ ”
Singleton happily took his uncle’s advice.
“Any time I got a chance to, I’d just pull it out and play,” he said.
Singleton’s songs and his guitar playing are infused with soul, funk, rhythm-and-blues and gospel music, but blues is his musical foundation.
“I don’t think I chose the blues,” he said. “I think the blues chose me. A lot of people say that but, in my case, I always played blues. In Mississippi, blues is just in the air, everywhere.”