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"Get Down" with Ragan Whiteside

"The true beauty of music is that it connects people" - Roy Ayers. That's the essence of soul-jazz flutist, vocalist, and composer Ragan Whiteside's music. With six studio albums under her belt and her 7th album, self-titled "Ragan," about to be released, Whiteside has introduced the flute to a new genre while challenging the classical music world. She proves that the flute is not exclusive to any one world. Music is about interpretation, inspiration, and the love of the art, doing what makes you happy. #W4TC had the honor of learning about Ragan's passion for music, the importance of being multifaceted in your field, and the need for arts in schools.



 

Q&A

  • Ragan, you’re an award-winning NAACP Image award nominee, billboard #1 charting artist, radio personality, voice-over actress, and many more accomplishments, but take us to the start. When did your passion for the arts begin?


My passion for the arts has been with me for as long as I can remember. My parents always played music in the house, from Johnny Mathis to Rick James and everything in between. My uncle was a singer and a drummer, and he would let me loose on his drum set from when I was 3 or 4. Around that same time, my grandmother took me to a concert at her church where one of the performers was an opera singer, and I was so captivated by her performance at four years old! After that, all I knew was I wanted to make music however I could. My parents noticed my interest and got me involved in any music-related programs they could find.



  • In my experience, most children interested in the arts only strive to be singers, especially in the music industry, so what made you decide to be a flutist?


I wanted to be a singer and an instrumentalist as a kid. Instruments just looked like a lot of fun to me. I started with piano, drums, and later violin (because violin was what my best friend played). I was enjoying those instruments, but I wanted to be in the “Band Day Parade” that went through the town where I grew up. So, in the 4th grade, when the band teacher started recruiting, I was very intent on playing a band instrument to march in that parade. The drums were reserved for the boys; they ran out of trumpets, and they only had left the flute and the clarinet. I didn’t want to deal with a reed, so I settled on the flute. I was not thrilled; it took a week to get a sound out of it, but I stuck to it and started to get good at it. I grew to love it, started winning competitions with it, and then decided to try to make a career with it. Now, I can’t imagine my life without my flute.



  • Being exposed to many elements and different paths at an early age is important to the trajectory of one's life. So, how important is it for people to advocate for and help fund the arts in all schools, not just those in suburban areas?


The importance of the arts in education cannot be overstated. Many kids' only motivation to attend school is the opportunity to dive deeper into their creative passions. I was definitely one of those kids, and I’m grateful that my school had arts programs to keep me focused and engaged. Not everyone is meant to be an athlete, a scientist, or an engineer. Young creatives need support as well.



  • I read somewhere that the Flute was once considered a “masculine instrument,” leading me to believe that, as always, in most careers, it was male-dominated. Has the perception of the instrument hindered you in any way?


Believe it or not, in my experience, the issues I’ve had with the perception of the flute have been more genre-based than gender-based. People see the flute and usually think about soft classical music; changing that association can be challenging. That said, Contemporary Jazz as a genre is definitely male-dominated, so being a female flute player brings out all kinds of exciting nuances.




  • The Flute is traditionally used in classical music, but you bring more of a neo-soul jazz feeling to your music. Were you afraid to take the unbeaten path, and did you receive any pushback from the classical music world?



I didn’t receive any pushback per se… it was more of an “I don’t understand why you’re doing that, but do you!” kind of thing. By the time I decided to pursue Contemporary Jazz, I had already lost that “Lovin’ feeling” for pursuing a career in the classical world. It was a tricky transition, but I was determined to make it work. I loved the freedom of playing Contemporary Jazz, and I loved neo-soul, so forging my path was my only option if I wanted to stay true to myself.



  • Not only do you play the Flute, but you can also sing! Are people surprised to learn that you can do it all: sing, play, arrange, and compose? How important is it to know all the roles of your business?


I guess some people would be surprised, but these days, you almost HAVE to be able to do it all to get ahead as an artist. Being able to understand how different instruments complement each other is essential for having a well-rounded composition. Also, knowing when to call somebody who is an expert on a particular instrument and not try to play it yourself is a plus!



  • Ragan, you're an independent artist releasing music on the label you and your husband Dennis founded called Randis Music. Many artists have reasons for going independent, but what made you take that path?



When I was first shopping for a record deal, I got a ton of rejections. “Flute doesn’t test well,” I was told. Since I had no intention of taking “no” for an answer, we released the album independently. Every album we released did better than the one before it, and after a while, there was no reason to shop for a record deal, and we could retain ownership of our masters. I’m not saying that if the right situation came, I wouldn’t take the deal, but owning your master's is always best.



  • "Steppin’ Out is the lead single on your 7th studio album Titled “Ragan ” dropping in August. How does it feel to be seven albums in; still doing what you love and being recognized by your

  • peers as the best to do?


It’s a dream come true! I am so appreciative of the opportunity to create and release music. Not everyone gets to do what they love; I will never take this for granted.





  • Ragan, what would you say to a young black girl looking to pursue music who wants to play in a band or take up classical music but is afraid to do so because it may not seem cool?


The most remarkable thing is to stand in your truth and do what makes you happy. As long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter what other people think.


  • Ragan, who are some fellow flutists you look up to past and present, and why?


Dave Valentin (Latin jazz) and Jean-Pierre Rampal (classical) were my flute idols as I was growing up. Although they played in vastly different genres, they both played with unique brands of fire and passion. I also love listening to Najee—his musical vocabulary is fierce!



  • Ragan, what can't you do because you have a nationally syndicated radio show, “Get Down with Ragan Whiteside." What made you go into radio? Was that a hard transition, and what can listeners expect from your show?



Radio found me, in a way. David Linton, the Program Director for WCLK in Atlanta, came to one of my shows and liked how I spoke. He called me about a week later and asked me to audition to be an on-air personality for the radio station. Of course, I jumped at the chance and sent in a demo. A few months later, I was on the air! Thankfully, some OG radio folks there were willing to help me get up to speed, and I’m grateful for everything they’ve taught me over the past four years. “The Get Down with Ragan Whiteside” is in addition to my Saturday show on WCLK, and it features the funky side of Contemporary Jazz with songs that

make you want to lean in and pay attention.


  • Ragan, what can we expect from you this summer?


This summer (while finishing my album – yikes!), I’ll be performing in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, South Carolina, Illinois, Nevada, and California. Details are available on my website: www.raganwhiteside.com




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