When you’re an artist whose art speaks to people, your work can occasionally end up in some unlikely places.
As Valerie June was getting ready to attend a music awards ceremony back in her home state of Tennessee, she was informed of a viral video by a Memphis woman set to June’s song “Workin’ Woman Blues,” from her acclaimed 2013 album “Pushin’ Against a Stone.”
“I haven’t seen it,” says June, 32, on the phone from Memphis. “I have heard about it, and she didn’t ask for permission to use my song. So, I don’t really have nothing to say about it other than art deserves respect and when people use art, they should respect the artist and ask the artist if they can use it.”
As much as the video proves that June’s music, which she officially describes as “organic moonshine roots music,” can serve as healing sounds during tough times, the Jackson-born June has found that her songs can also appeal to younger crowds. “Well, I think that it’s really funny how my music relates to so many kids,” she says.
Kids even feel those June tunes with very adult subject matter, as she found out when she spoke to a little fan after a recent gig. “Her and her mom had come from Chattanooga, and she was like, ‘I have to go to school, but my mom let me off because I’m a huge Valerie June fan,’” she recalls. “And she was telling me this and she said, ‘You know what my favorite song is?’ She was nine. And she said, ‘It’s ‘Shotgun.’’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ Then she said, ‘I don’t really know, but it’s a great story and, at the end of it, how it takes a turn.’ And she started whispering. She said, ‘I think the person’s getting shot when you go crazy on the guitar at the very end.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God! I don’t know if I like you liking this murder ballad or not.’”
June knows that she can’t control who listens to her music or what they use it for. But thanks to the great women she grew up listening to, she understands that her music belongs to everyone and she’s merely a conduit for that music to be amplified to the masses.
“The funny thing about roots music is that it’s anybody’s music,” she says. “And it’s not mine. It doesn’t belong to me. It moves through me. And listening to women like Elizabeth Cotten and Maybelle Carter and Dolly Parton … When I heard these other women, even Tracy Chapman, it just gave me so much encouragement, and it gave me so many role models to look up to.”