Jamila Woods

October 6, 1989 – Present
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Active: May 22, 2012 – Present

Born in Chicago and raised on the South Side of the city, Jamila Woods is a singer, songwriter, poet and arts administrator. Woods grew up singing in her church choir, the influence of which is felt in the layered vocals heard in her recordings. She recalls being inspired by her grandmother’s pastor who she says “blurred the line between speech and song.”

Woods attended Brown University where she majored in Africana Studies and Theater. Before releasing solo recordings as a vocalist, Woods performed and recorded as half of the duo M&O (aka Milo & Otis), M&O is Jamila “Milo” Woods and fellow Brown University alum, Owen “Otis” Hill. Woods sings, recites poetry and triggers loops while Hill plays bass and handles production on the two “Adventure Soul” albums they’ve released. Their debut album, The Joy, was released in 2012, and Almost Us followed in 2014.

Woods’ cameos on Chance the Rapper’s hit Sunday Candy from the album Surf (2015) as well as “Blessings” from Coloring Book (2016) raised Wood’s profile in popular music. Woods is also featured on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song “White Privilege II” (2016).

Woods’ inspirations are both musical and literary. The title and lyrics of each song on Legacy! Legacy! for example, invokes a different visionary artist/thinker of color. There are tracks named for funkstress Betty Davis, Miles Davis, bluesman Muddy Waters, who, like Woods, lived in Chicago and defined the sound of that city in his time. Then there are the hybrids, who like Jamila Woods work in music and other artforms, including vocalist and actress Eartha Kitt and the enigmatic composer and poet, Sun Ra, who established the Arkestra that would play his intergalactic compositions in Woods’ hometown of Chicago. Other tracks are named for novelist and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, poet, Sonia Sanchez, visual artist, Frida Kahlo, speculative novelist Octavia Butler and James Baldwin. Perhaps the artist to which Woods is most obviously heir is Nikki Giovanni, the poet whose albums in the 1970s featured her poems recited over the raw and soulful stylings of a choir.

Woods has also named Erykah Badu, Imogen Heap, Kirk Franklin, Kendrick Lamar, Toni Morrison, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ani DiFranco, and Reverend Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Choir as influences on her work.