THE Tennessee-based artist tells EDWIN GILSON about finding her voice and hanging out with Prince.

THERE is no shortage of inspirational figures in Kandace Springs’ life. First there’s her father Scat, a respected Nashville musician who gave his daughter her first piano. Then there’s Prince, the late pop singer who took Kandace under his wing after being wowed by a cover she performed of a Sam Smith song. Underpinning everything Kandace does in music is the jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. Kandace wrote a glowing tribute to the woman she calls “the queen” for The Guardian this year, in which she discussed her enduring infatuation.

When it comes to guiding lights, then, Kandace is pretty well set. But she has still needed time to find a voice that she is happy with. Her debut EP, released in 2014, was produced by Pop and Oak, the team behind music by R n B superstars Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, and Kandace admits she was taken in a direction she wasn’t entirely comfortable with.

“That hip-hop sound was cool but it’s not as fulfilling as going back to the hip-hop traditions.” The singer adds that she has “struggled” with people telling her that her preferred brand of music – authentic jazz with a unique twist – wouldn’t sell. “I had to become an a******* and put my foot down,” she says. “I said, ‘I don’t care if we only sell one album, I have to be doing what I want to do.”

That steely determination comes through during our phone interview but Kandace also has a playful, eccentric conversation style, cracking jokes and taking on various accents. One impression she tackles is of her father. Kandace says she wouldn’t have become a musician without his aid.

“There was this old piano that some family friends had thrown out because they fallen on hard times. My dad said he would take care of it until I wanted to play it. A day or two later I saw it downstairs and started playing [Beethoven’s] Moonlight Sonata. “He said [puts on Tennessee accent] ‘let me show you how to play that’ and he started doing this ghetto version. I preferred the Beethoven style.”

Scat soon arranged music lessons for his daughter with Grammy-award winning bass player Victor Wooton, just another illustrious name in Kandace’s story. After many, many performances in Tennessee and surrounding states, music promoters started to take notice of Kandace and around the release of her self-titled EP she made television appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Tonight Show.

The word was well and truly out, but it took an intervention from an unlikely, high-profile source for Kandace to see that she had strayed from her natural impulse. After stumbling across Kandace’s cover of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me online, Prince asked her to perform with him at the 30th anniversary concert of his classic album Purple Rain.

This was thrilling for Kandace, but it didn’t stop there – the pop icon invited her to hang out with him at his Paisley Park estate in Minneapolis. “Everyone remembers the first time they meet Prince,” says Kandace. “He wanted to speak to me over the phone, and God I was nervous.

“When I picked up the phone he was just like ‘hi’. It was kind of creepy cool. We bonded straight away, as soon as we had our first rehearsal. He only liked having women at his facility, as many as he could.

“One night he had everyone kicked out of a movie theatre just so we could all watch a movie. It was just like, wow.” Kandace adds that Prince was responsible for turning her away from the auto-tuned, R n B sound of her debut EP. “I played guitar and sang for him and he said ‘that’s who you are, you don’t need all that stuff covering up your voice’. He gave me a hard time about it – he went on a preachy rant. He asked me why I was letting them do that to my voice.”

The results of Kandace’s revelation – a return to a more distinct jazz sound – are evident on last year’s album Soul Eyes, which was generally well reviewed by critics. But its creator isn’t looking back. While she’ll draw from that record in Rye tomorrow, she’s already recording new material and can’t wait for you to hear it.

“I’m real excited about it,” she says. “It’s going to be so good – you’re going to love it.”

Kandace Springs
Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival, 
St Mary’s Church, Rye, tomorrow, 8pm. For more information and tickets visit or call 01797 222318