At eighteen years old, JD Danner embarked on the path she thought would provide her with comfort and stability. Instead she was met with the tedious task of crunching numbers as an accountant and had her hopes further crushed when doctors delivered the news that her chances of having children were obsolete. Facing down a tunnel of emptiness, she turned to the one thing that brought her joy since she first learned to talk: music.
Danner has gone on to lead a successful career in music spanning over two decades, with lofty accomplishments under her belt including performing NFL half-time shows, being featured on Janis Ian’s website, and partnerships with with the American Cancer Society, Disabled American Veterans, Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, several animal rescue organizations, and organizations assisting victims of domestic violence.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with JD Danner to discuss her decades-long career, giving back through the power of music, performing at Pride festivals and military bases, and why it’s never to late to reinvent and embark on a different path.
How would you describe your music to a stranger?
My music is a combination of rock, country, and blues. Over the years, those are the genres I’ve always played. I moved around and in between. So when I sat down and started writing my own music, I just continued in that direction. That was what felt organic. I was playing covers in local clubs for about three or four years and that was when I started putting my own message to music. I had a producer I was working with at the time down here in West Palm Beach, Florida, and I made a commitment to write one song a week and bring it to the studio. I ended up doing 14 songs.
I was covering mostly classic rock. So the artists I covered ranged from Janis Joplin to the Eagles to Van Morrison, Heart, and Joan Jett. I also really enjoy the blues, so I started incorporating that into my sets as well. The first blues artist that I really admired was Bonnie Raitt. She was one of the few female virtuoso guitar players I knew of at the time, and I loved the soulfulness in her vocals. That was the catalyst that made me want to start playing blues. Then it was Tracy Chapman. I also loved Ray Charles and BB King.
You’ve been active in the music industry for two decades. What’s the most important lesson you’ve taken away from your many years in the field?
To not give up. There is so much rejection. You could give the best performance of your life and get horrible reviews or outright rejected after an audition. And you never really know, maybe the person who was listening had a terrible day. Art in general is very subjective to emotion. So if I could offer any kind of advice to people, it would be to care about the feedback that you get, enjoy the highs while you can and don’t let the lows knock you out from coming back.
When was the first time you experienced the high of writing a song and having it take flight?
Definitely when I wrote “Rage.” That was the first song I seriously wrote. I had dabbled in writing a few songs before, but nothing substantial came from those sessions. When I wrote “Rage” and started playing it live and seeing the visceral reactions from the audience, that was when I knew I had a knack for this. So yeah, I would say playing a new song for an audience was the first time I got that fever and wanted to keep doing it.
What was the attitude towards music as a career in the climate you grew up in?
I grew up in Long Island and started playing at five or six years old. I come from a very musical family, but music was never regarded as a possible career. It was always a hobby. So when I reached the age where most people might start hitting the stage and trying to make it in the business at age 18, 19, 20; that was not my story. I went to college and got a degree in accounting. I got married at a young age and I didn’t start playing professionally until I was 30 years old.
And that’s usually when people start thinking, “I’ve given this a try, now I’ve gotta get back to real life and do something with my life.” But for me, it happened in reverse. I didn’t grow up in a city like Nashville or Austin, but I did grow up right outside New York City. I was about 19 just after I got married and moved down to Florida. I probably spent the next ten years as an accountant and trying to start a family. And then I was diagnosed with endometriosis. I just couldn’t find happiness in anything. So I eventually quit being an accountant and signed up for vocal lessons and pursued music again.
Thank you for sharing that. It’s so important for people—especially women—to know that it’s never too late to pursue what makes you happy.
I appreciate you saying that, because that has been my fuel for this journey. When I first started, I always had that feeling of “why didn’t I do this sooner?” And when I started to get a little bit of press at the beginning of my career, I never wanted to tell people my age. So it was always a struggle. I always aim to inspire other women, because a lot of women feel pressured into starting a family and following the status quo, and then when they discover their true passions, they feel like it’s too late to try. But it’s never too late to switch up the game and pursue what makes you happy.
What is one song that always manages to pick you up when you’re feeling depressed?
I would say “Say a Little Prayer.” After going through a breakup and feeling hopeless, I loved listening to that song in the car over and over again.
You released a single called “Nothing but Faith” in 2020. Was that song sitting in the vault for a while or did you write it for that specific time?
That song was definitely inspired by the pandemic and the lockdown because everything just stood still. I would take a walk at night and the streets were so quiet and there was nobody outside. I was home so much and I hadn’t written a song in about five years and was not inspired to write anything prior to that. During lockdown, I eventually just felt the need to sit down and put that sadness and fear to paper, because nobody knew what was going to happen. We had never really experienced this in our lifetime. So those lyrics came from where we were at as a society. What was so amazing was that for a brief moment, the whole world had the same concern. And I just found that so mind boggling.
You also make a strong effort to raise awareness about mental health and domestic violence in your music. Has that always been a natural progression for you?
Yes, that definitely happened organically. I think it’s so important to give back with my music. In the arts, you either get paid way too much, or you don’t get paid enough to have that be your only gig. So it’s important for me to use my music in philanthropic ways. I might not be selling out arenas or stadiums, but I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love.
And I want to use it to give back because I understand the power of music. Music can move emotions in every single way a person can be moved. Music can bring people out of a coma. Music can be the thing that moves people to feel better, even when they’re in pain or mentally or physically drained. Music is the best medicine out there. My first experience doing philanthropic work with my music was when I was asked to write a song for an organization called Women in Distress, which helps women and children who are victims of domestic violence. They did a fundraiser where they sold CDs, and I wrote “Shelter from the Shame” for the fundraiser. I started to see the power of how I could use my music to help people, because I get so much joy out of being able to play music. I get so much back from the audience and I hope I can give back to them in whatever way I can.
It’s very inspiring to hear that. Music is so often used as a tool for exploitation in the business, and it’s nice to hear that you’re using it for good.
That reminds me of a festival I was supposed to play in Lakeland, Florida. We were told there would be a management team there who wanted to sign my band, but it was all a scam. It was barely even an actual festival, it was so poorly organized. That was one of those moments when I just didn’t understand why I even bothered. I didn’t feel like I had a reason to keep going. Then I checked my email on the way home and found a wonderful message from a woman who had bought my CD a year before, and she told me that “Shelter from the Shame” helped her get out of an abusive relationship. It’s moments like that that remind me why I do this.
Is there anything else you would like to plug or promote?
Yes. I’m doing a show on October 14th at Arts Garage. I’ll be debuting a show called “Life in a Song: The JD Danner Story.” The show is a journey through the music that’s transformed my life, from my original songs to the Carole King and Stevie Wonder songs I sang at six or seven years old. But most of it is a journey through my life in the stories of my original songs. I’m so excited about this show. We started working on it and rehearsing a month ago. ‘m working on a zine so we can have it at the table, and that will include the story, the synopsis of the show, and the lyrics to the songs I perform.
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