Like a Fourth Voice: An Interview with The Shindellas’ Stacy Johnson

Like a Fourth Voice: An Interview with The Shindellas’ Stacy Johnson

Stacy Johnson, of The Shindellas, in Franklin, Tenn., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023.


There is a hopeful light in the beats of the Afrofuturistic girl group The Shindellas. Their 2021 debut recording, “Hits That Stick Like Grits,” resonated with young and old alike, with songs like “Fear Has No Place” and “Win My Heart.” They appeared at the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville and on December 19, the trio made their Grand Ole Opry debut on a bill that included former Bob Dylan sideman Charlie McCoy and Opry member John Conlee. The Shindellas appear with October London at the Vic Theatre in Chicago on February 25.

The Shindellas—Tamara Chauniece, Stacy Johnson and Kasi Jones—are based in Nashville. But Johnson’s roots in Chicago are a cornerstone of the group. The women created the name “Shindo” to define the chills delivered from a burst of inspiration. Their October 2023 rhythm-and-blues release is called “Shindo,”and it spawned the lead dance single “Last Night Was Good for My Soul.”

The Shindellas: Kasi Jones, Stacy Johnson and Tamara Chauniece/Photo: Ezelle Franklin

Chauniece is a gospel-trained singer from Texas and Jones brings jazz-rock idioms from Seattle, but Johnson was born in Evanston. Her parents are Jamaican immigrants who met at Sullivan High School. Her father Gary is from Kingston. Her mother Yasmine is from Mandeville. Gary served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army and Yasmine worked a factory job making reflectors in Chicago. Johnson has four sisters.

When Johnson was fourteen, she discovered the Black-owned Joy Art Music at 2425 Main Street in Evanston. The production company was owned and operated by composer-musician Morris “Butch” Stewart and his wife Brenda. They met when they were background singers for Ramsey Lewis. Morris died in 2017 at sixty-four after a battle with cancer.

Joy Art closed in 2010.

“It was a family that was so creative,” the thirty-six-year-old Johnson says in an early January conversation from her home in Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville. “They played instruments and sang beautifully. I had never seen music in a way where it was a business, yet so fun. They also did plays and community festivals. They were really involved in bringing the community together in Evanston and the North Side of Chicago.

“They saved my life. I had been through a lot and didn’t know how to express myself. They taught me how to express myself in a creative way. And made sure I was able to take care of myself. I was independent at a very young age.”

Johnson connected with Joy Art through a songwriting workshop she was taking at Evanston Township High School. The Stewarts recorded her at their Evanston studio. “I came back every day,” she says. “They could not get rid of me. To the point they gave me a job. I was singing jingles and doing voiceover work at age fifteen. One of my first clients was McDonald’s. They cut me a check for $350 for the studio session and I said, ‘This is what I’m doing for the rest of my life.’ I’m loving it (McDonald’s pun somewhat intended). There was a Starbucks across the street. That was one of my first jobs. I would go from Starbucks to Joy Art.”

Brenda taught Johnson set design and performance. “She became my God Mom,” she says. “She taught me key vocal lessons I use today. Morris was my ‘Papa Bear.’ He taught me how to play guitar and write music. He was the lifeline for everybody. He would challenge me to learn different things, ‘Sing along with this jazz line and make sure you can get all of these notes.’ I stayed with them until I had the courage to go off on my own.” By the time Johnson was eighteen she moved to Atlanta to begin her songwriting career.

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