Back to the Future

Neo-soul artist Ms. Jaylin Brown is on the rise — and raising money for graduate study in Spain.

Something special happened when Richmond-based singer-songwriter Ms. Jaylin Brown stopped by In Your Ear Studios in November to play the Shockoe Sessions streaming concert series. “There was no part of my body that was telling me that this isn’t where I’m supposed to be right now,” Brown says.

Before her was an oversold audience of family, close friends and fans of the two EPs she’s released: 2018’s “Vulnerable” and 2022 Newlin Music Prize nominee “Take It Easy.” Behind her was a five-piece ensemble of Richmond-based ringers she’d selected with great deliberation. It was the 2020 VCU grad’s first time sharing her skilled and restorative neo-soul songs in a full-band setting, and the occasion’s significance was palpable.

“I think of fate a lot, in a spiritual way,” Brown says. “I think of destiny and God and what is to be and what’s supposed to be, and that was one of those moments.”

Back to basics

If you catch an upcoming gig, however, you might not see that same ensemble. Sometimes going back is the best way to go forward, and Brown is staging a concert series where she’s illustrating — one added element per show — how her sound is built. Starting with last Saturday’s solo outing at the First Unitarian Universalist church and culminating with a full-band performance at Gallery5 on April 1, the shows are aimed at raising funds for Brown’s upcoming graduate studies at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain.

The series is modeled after a 2018 run that raised funds for her undergraduate degree, which focused on vocal and opera performance. She’ll need $1,000 for each month of the year-long Berklee program to obtain her visa. “I’m at $6,000 right now, with the help of an uncle and quite a few friends,” she says. “But these next four or five concerts, I’m really going to be hoping to get that remaining $6,000.” Once that goal is met, she’ll still have thousands of tuition dollars to raise. “Everything is a fundraiser,” she says with a laugh.

A multifaceted curriculum awaits in Valencia. Starting in September, she’ll learn about digital audio production, mixing and mastering, as well as methods of marketing music. She ruled out Berklee’s Boston campus for undergrad study because of imposter syndrome and cost concerns, but when looking at masters programs, she was attracted to Valencia’s warmer-than-Boston climate, in addition to its rich classical guitar tradition.

“I really want to level out my guitar skills and my vocal skills to where I can solo onstage, or I can take a piece of music and read it on my guitar, versus having to sight-read it vocally or read it on the piano,” she says. “I want to know my guitar just as well as I know my voice.”

A living legacy

Brown’s earliest exploration of guitar took place alongside her twin brother, Jonathan. Music runs deep in their family. Their grandparents met in high school choir, and their parents met doing ballet together. As a student at Matoaca High School, Jaylin was already writing songs on the piano, but she admired her brother’s proficiency with the guitar. “I wasn’t getting the sound that I wanted,” she says of the piano, “but I could hear it on the guitar.” When one-on-one lessons with her brother didn’t catch on, Jaylin took matters into her own hands. “Whenever he wasn’t home, I would go into his room, take his guitar and I’d practice,” she remembers.

The family’s other legacy is healthcare. Her mom is a newborn pediatrician, her older sister is a home care provider and Jaylin herself works in health education, which she describes as “really rewarding.” Nevertheless, she’s hoping her time in Valencia will equip her to rely on her creativity. “I would love to be able to dedicate 100% of my time to music… Those business classes that I’ll be taking over at Berklee are going to be really helpful for that, so when I come back, I’ll be able to hit the ground running and allow my career to take off in the way that I’d like it to.”

In many ways, Brown’s career is already taking off, thanks in part to her collaborative nature, which has been on display at events like Black Iris Social Club’s Monday night Roots Jam and the Firehouse Theatre’s recent production of the “Ghost Quartet” musical. She’s also riding a wave of regional recognition from making the short list for the Newlin Music Prize, now in its second year of honoring the best album from Richmond or Petersburg. (Brown also sang on the album that won the inaugural Newlin award, McKinley Dixon’s “For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her.”) But when asked how it feels for her “Take It Easy” EP to be received so warmly, she cites an area audience whose feedback offers rewards no accolade can: babies in her mother’s practice. “She has patients, even, who listen to my music,” Brown says, “and that’s what they use to put their kids to sleep. I love that. What I really want to do for people is put them in a state of peace.”

Inspired to make an impact

That same goal motivated Brown to write the title track of “Take It Easy” for a friend when racial justice protests of 2020 were at their height. “People were having just a really hard time,” she notes, “not only with processing things, but with existence.” Over dreamy, softly strummed chords, Brown offers a casual expression many of us could stand to consider more deeply. “I’ve always said, ‘Take it easy,’” she says. “My dad says, ‘Take it easy…’ It really resonates.”

“At the end of the day,” she adds, “I’m not creating this music for myself. I’m creating it to share, and to spread love throughout my community… Something that can open people up to being more vulnerable.”

She started at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to go into music education — to teach students to express themselves. After falling in love with performing, she switched her major and immersed herself in the operatic form. Over time, however, as she looked around the Richmond scene, she saw peers thriving without the limitations she found with opera. “Unfortunately being in the opera field is very strict,” she says. “There are roles that I’ll never be able to perform, just because of stigmas and things like that, and I didn’t want to live in a world like that … The more I got out into the community, the more I saw other musicians making it happen.”

Soon, she was one of them. She progressed from the Emilio’s open mic to gigs that paid enough for her to earn a living. “Until the pandemic,” she says, “I was a full-time musician… Being able to manage all of that was really difficult, but having the freedom to choose where to share my gifts and my energy was amazing. That’s where I’m working myself back to, just in a way that’s more manageable.”

The realization of that goal may be a year — and an ocean — away, but fans have plenty of opportunities to show their support before Brown crosses the Atlantic. The next show in her fundraising series is Friday at Curitiba Art Café in Fredericksburg. The following night she’ll be back in Richmond at HealThySelf Healthy Mixes. Khalil Houston and Kennie Sings, the poets who appear at the beginning and end of the “Take It Easy” EP, will join her, as will two members of her Shockoe Session band: keyboardist Calvin Brown and guitarist Steve Boone. It’s billed as an intimate engagement, and Brown is fueled by that connectedness.

“People are going to be close enough to feel my energy,” she says. “That alone is going to make this night special — just people showing up for me. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful.”

Ms. Jaylin Brown will perform at HealThySelf Healthy Mixes on Saturday, March 4. Doors open at 6 p.m. and music starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at For information on all of Brown’s upcoming performances, visit To contribute to Brown’s GoFundMe, visit


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