Joanna Best in Show

“What makes me different from most other singers is I’m a formally trained vocalist who wants to be in the bars and clubs singing the Blues.” This opening interview statement made by Joanna Best, our featured artist this month, reflects the pleasing juxtaposition and deep traction she finds herself in the midst of, gaining ground since moving here from Kansas City in 2007. She is an adjunct music instructor at AB Tech and spent years as a public and private school music teacher; she’s a multi-instrumentalist and full-fledged front woman of local six-piece Jump Blues band, Virginia and the Slims.

“I pursue an informed approach by reading up on the artists and songwriters and studying the history and elements of swing and Blues that make up the Jump genre we cover. It’s akin to my method toward the arias I sang in college. When I found The Slims, who share the same enthusiasm for discovery, I found a great situation.” The Slims consist of leader and guitarist, Sean Anderson, saxophonist/vocalist James Kamp, harmonicist Bill Mattocks, bassist Tim McCall and drummer Marco Noto.

Highly influenced by the roots and rhythm, and her strict classical education, Joanna successfully links these elements of street and academic smarts. Born Joanna Boyd to Presbyterian Preacher Rich and his wife Martha, she spent her first six months in Dunedin Florida near Tampa, where her paternal grandfather was a telegrapher for the railroad. “Grandpa Boyd gave me the music gene.” And it’s apparent that her father gave her the fun gene. “My father was not your typical minister! He was a beer drinkin’ dirty joke tellin’, twice divorced preacher!” These beloved characteristics helped shape her open and fearless attitude in life and music.

Her parents packed up baby Joanna and older sister, Betsy, and headed to a new church in New Orleans, LA. “My folks took us to all the music festivals, including Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras! I have lots of poignant memories of a routine celebratory atmosphere of music in the streets!”

Her North Carolina native mother grew weary of the hustle and bustle of the Big Easy so after Joanna’s sixth birthday, they moved to the North Carolina coastal, colonial town of New Bern. They lived in the heart of downtown in a large house built in 1821, just behind her father’s church. “This house was owned by the church and was next to the Masonic Lodge, which also housed the community theater. And the green room of the theater literally opened up onto our driveway. I’d always hear actresses and actors warming up and singing, inspiring me so much that I ended up performing in plays and musicals in that theater. Across the street was the town library and all this was just two blocks from the water.”

Between the ages of six and eleven, she was a frequent soloist in church and by age eleven, she’d learned to play and sing the Ceilidh and folk music of her father’s Scottish heritage. By middle school, she’d joined the predominantly African American member chorus and says, “I was the only white girl in that chorus, which to me is significant to my journey.”

In high school she began to focus more on piano and by the time she was accepted to North Carolina’s prestigious Davidson College in 1991, decided to major in music and voice. Milton Babbit, famous for presenting the ultimate in what is known as the twelve-tone structure, came to lecture for the music department. The music majors were invited to have lunch with Babbit along with his attaché, pianist Robert Taub. During a hallway conversation Joanna shared with Babbit, he asked about her musical focus. “I said, well I’m a singer. And at that moment, Taub walked up and Milton Babbit introduced me saying, ‘This young lady is a singer. Taub then retorted, ‘You have a hard road ahead, my dear.’ And I told him that every obstacle I meet just makes me more determined!”

After college, she moved to Kansas City where she was lead singer in two Blues/Rock bands and worked as a singing waitress, as well as taught music in the primary public school system there. While based in Kansas City, she toured England with a singing group called Northern Harmony and became fascinated with Balkan Folk Music. That would later come into play when she performed with the Asheville based, Gypsy/World music quartet, Jibblin the Froeline, with UNCA professor and bassist, Wayne Kirby. But before that, she wrote her college thesis on the history of Balkan Folk Music.

Joanna Best has more than just a Master’s Degree in music and music education. She’s got a PhD in Beguiling Blues singing.

Joanna’s most fortuitous experience came at a high school, summer academic music and theater program at The Governor’s School in Winston-Salem in 1989, which is where she met her husband, Scott Best for the first time. Fifteen years later they reconnected, then married several years after that. In 2007, she steered her ship toward Western North Carolina where family roots and love were calling. Fast forward almost 10 years: Scott and Joanna live in north Asheville and have a son, Boyd, and her step sons, Andrew and Harrison, both play wind instruments.

Ironically, Joanna is also now preparing to perform for a special family-connected fundraiser. Her uncle, Adlai Boyd, a retired resident of Montreat, is also a member of the Asheville Choral Society. He met and married the society’s former pianist, Karen Salvucci. Joanna’s Aunt Karen is a founding member and former president of the Asheville Area Piano Form. The forum’s mission statement reads in part: “To provide educational and charitable opportunities for Western North Carolina piano teachers, their students and their communities.”

Joanna will be performing a musical vignette at AAPF’s Fall Fundraiser, accompanied by internationally acclaimed pianist, composer, teacher, touring and recording artist, Brian Turner. Hosting the event this year is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, located at 1 Edwin Place, on Sunday, October 8th at 3pm. To read more about this valuable 501(c)(3) organization and to get ticket information for the fundraiser, do yourselves a favor and visit their website at www.ashevillepiano.org/!

Joanna Best has more than just a Master’s Degree in music and music education. She’s got a PhD in Beguiling Blues singing. She made history when she penned the still prevalent Hanger Hall School for Girls Alma Mater, and she’s a rock star at Elida Homes after school music program. The volunteer work she does to help bridge the gap between music education programs lost in budget cuts, and the difference she’s made in children’s lives all over the country, is matched only by the joy she and The Slims bring to stages all across our region.


For their full schedule, visit www.virginiaandtheslims.net.
Their October dates:
Sunday, October 1st, Wicked Weed, 4pm;
Friday, October 6th, Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues 10pm,
Saturday, October 14th, Cornstock at Elida Corn Maze 3pm,
Friday, October 27th, The Phoenix and Fox in Brevard at 9pm,
Saturday, October 28th, Silver Fork Winery Morganton, 2pm

Peggy Ratusz
Written by Peggy Ratusz