Melodies of Motherhood: Stories of North Carolina’s Working Musician Mothers with Rissi Palmer

Friday, May 10, 2019

Melodies of Motherhood 

Stories of North Carolina’s Working Musician Mothers 

Story by Carly Jones, N.C. Arts Council Music Director

As a little girl who grew up playing house in tree forts while also staging living room concerts with a hairbrush as a microphone, I was taught by the world around me that these two paths were mutually exclusive. Later, as I ventured into my twenties majoring in music and pursuing a career in the arts, I was told by a mentor of mine, “You can have it all – you just can’t have it all at once.” Times are changing. Recently, I have worked with several artists who have been able to balance motherhood and a creative career. Many young artists, like myself, who hope to one day have families of our own, marvel at the women who somehow manage to balance it all. In this limited Mother’s Day series, you’ll hear from North Carolina musicians who are inspiring examples of women who have embraced motherhood and their artistry and are defying the odds. 

Rissi Palmer

Durham County, N.C.

Singer-Songwriter, Southern Soul

Name and age of your child/children: 

Grace, age 7 1/2

Nova, due June 6

What is your child's favorite song? 

Grace: "My favorite song is 'Seven Rings' by Ariana Grande." (deep eye roll from mom)

What does your child think of your own music?

Grace: "It's good and has a nice tune. It's cool having a mom that's a musician. She's a little bit famous." (LOL)

What’s the coolest part about being both a musician and a mother?

I love being able to share my love of music with my daughter and watch her develop her own. Grace can stand in front of anyone and speak or sing and isn't the least bit scared because she's used to it. 

What challenges have you faced being both a musician and a mother? 

It’s important to me that my children have a consistent schedule and stable home life. I also want to be there when the big things happen, so sometimes there are opportunities that I have to pass on because they don’t fit my family’s schedule. For example, I mostly play on the weekends and try to be home either late Sunday night or early Monday morning, so my family can either travel with me or I can at least pick her up from school. If it’s something that I absolutely can't pass up, then my husband and I will figure out how to make it work so that our home life isn't disrupted. I couldn't do any of the things I do if it weren't for my husband. His help is imperative. 

How does being a mother change the way you approach your music and your career?

In so many ways. For one, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that I have two daughters that are learning how to be women by watching me, so I’m cognizant of the example I set. They see me in charge of my band, running my own business behind the scenes, loving every moment of being onstage, working hard to make my dreams come true...I want them to know they can have families AND a career they love. 

I also know that because I’m mom, my sacrifice is a little different from if I were dad. My children depend on me in ways my husband just can’t fill, so I have to adjust. My ambitions haven’t taken a back seat, they’re just prioritized differently. 

What advice would you give young musicians who would like to one day also be mothers? 

There’s no one way to be a mother and musician. My way works for me and mine, but may not work for others. The type of partner you have is extremely important. You have to have someone who is supportive and respectful of your dreams and work. Also, before the babies come, sit down and really consider what motherhood looks like to you. Does it mean helping with homework every night? Chaperoning Scout camping trips? Or is it riding in a van around the country, playing shows with car seats in the back? Now... think about how a family fits into that vision. Is your vision sustainable? Is it healthy for you, your partner, and your child? If you can make it make sense, go for it. Just know that it takes lots of planning, consideration, and trial and error, but it is possible. 

As a mother, I've recorded three albums, one when my daughter Grace slept in a crib in the vocal booth while I did vocals and the other during the first trimester of my pregnancy with Nova. I have toured with a toddler and while pregnant. You can do this. Women are capable of so much, motherhood isn't an obstacle, it's a pathway. 

About the Artist

Rissi Palmer experienced a lifetime of milestones when she released her self-titled debut album in 2007. Rissi received widespread attention, including Ebony, Parade, Vibe, and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few. She made national television and radio appearances such as the CBS Early Show, PBS’ Tavis Smiley Show, and Sirius XM's Dr. Maya Angelou's Show on "Oprah & Friends." She was invited to perform at the White House and the Grand Ole Opry upon numerous occasions. And as if all that wasn't enough, Rissi also made music history as the first African-American female to chart a country song since 1987 with the release of her debut single, "Country Girl." Rissi has since released two projects independently, a children’s LP Best Day Ever in 2013 and 2015’s The Back Porch Sessions. Best Day Ever earned her an invite to play Lincoln Center in New York City and two of its tracks were featured on Smiles Ahead and Heart Beats, compilations made by Hallmark. The Back Porch Sessions, an EP described as “Southern Soul”, has received attention from publications such as Rolling Stone, PerezHilton.com, People Magazine, and NPR’s The State of Things.  She is now preparing for the release of a new project, entitled Revival, in September 2019.