About one year ago, the Somethin’ Sassy string band made their debut at the Blue Tavern. Fiddle player and vocalist Shanice “Sassy Shay” Richards says the group came together through a love of laughter and old-time music. Her bandmates Dr. Aisha Ivey and Conner “Co-Co” Bacon add banjo, guitar, and vocals to round out Somethin’ Sassy’s sound.
For their upcoming happy hour show at the Blue Tavern on June 22, Richards says the group will play several old-time standards with a modern flair.
“The Blue Tavern is such a great community of people, and owner Carrie Hamby has always created a welcoming, affirming space where we feel free to be expressive and try new things,” says Richards. “We create these connections with the audience. It’s like giving them a window into our lives and how we express ourselves through the music.”
It was through playing music that Richards discovered the power of her voice. In her hometown of Hollywood, Florida, her entire family served as the band for her parents’ small, Jamaican church. Her parents were the pastors, plus her mother sang lead vocals. Richards’ sister played piano and her brother accompanied on guitar, while she kept rhythm on the drums.
In third grade, Richards followed in her big sister’s footsteps and picked up the violin at their performing arts school. She continued to play the instrument at Florida State University while studying classical music.
Although she loved the violin, Richards didn’t enjoy the high level of perfectionism that hovered over the classical genre. Strongly influenced by her professors, Benjamin Sung and Ivey, Richards discovered old-time music and fiddle playing.
“The difference between a fiddle and a violin is that the violin has strings, and the fiddle has ‘strangs,’” laughs Richards. “It’s the combination of the rhythmic nature of the music and it’s very communal. That style of playing spoke to my heart and brought me back to when I was first learning violin.”
After graduation, Richards returned home to act as a caregiver for her late mother who was diagnosed with lung cancer. She would play hymns for her mother on the violin and saw how music’s soothing effects could bring comfort and fond memories. After her mother’s passing, Richards volunteered as a violinist in hospice care and started taking classes to become a board-certified music therapist.
“From that moment on, I knew the power that music could have on the brain,” says Richards. “I’ve volunteered at clinics, schools, and churches around my neighborhood and saw in every case how music connects to this part of your brain where you don’t feel like you’re being treated. You’re having fun but it’s having so many therapeutic effects on your body and the way you experience joy, peace or comfort.”
Upon returning to Tallahassee, Richards enrolled in Ivey’s summer Sparrow Music camp. It was there that she met Bacon, and the trio began to jam on their instruments outside of class.
Together, they brainstormed names and came up with “Somethin’ Sassy” as an apt description of their combined personalities and sound. Ivey’s punchy banjo-playing and training in traditional Appalachian music differs from Bacon’s bluegrass and jazz background and Richards’ experiences in gospel.
“I struggled for a long time in feeling like I could openly speak to someone or start a conversation, but music was the outlet where my voice is always bigger than my personality,” says Richards. “I used to think that no one could see me for who I was outside of music, and then I realized that I am who I am when I’m singing and engaging in this type of music. That’s me to my core and when I sing, I lose myself to the words and melody that are happening around me.”
Richards says this combination gives the group a distinctively unique flavor and lends itself to their improvisatory playing.
When they create their setlists for performances, they’ll mix old time standards along with newer arrangements. Old time music has a strong sense of lineage, and Richards says each musician will state out loud where they learned a song from before they play it for an audience.
The group is currently fine-tuning original music that they hope to distribute on an album sometime soon and have plans for future tours. In the meantime, they are excited to be a part of the Tallahassee community and share these time-honored traditions.
“It’s so important that we represent people of color in old time music,” says Richards. “This is a music for everyone. We’re trying to emphasize that there’s diversity in this music and we can have elements of jazz, blues, and gospel, and it can still be authentic and follow these oral traditions.”
Learn More about the Somethin’ Sassy
Read this article on the Tallahassee Democrat website