Women Working It: Grace Askew sits down with High Ground ahead of "Women Who Rock" speaker series

Women Working It is an outgoing High Ground Q&A series focused on women entrepreneurs and business owners in Memphis.

“I spent my childhood running through the woods and swimming at a nearby motel pool,” said Grace Askew, who grew up in Memphis' Davies Plantation area before it was heavily developed.

Now in her early 30s, the singer-songwriter has come a long way from gravel roads and motel pools, but she’s kept her roots in Memphis. 

On February 9, she’ll headline a hometown event, but it’s not a concert. 

Askew is the first speaker of the new “Women Who Rock" series. It's billed as a series of intimate talks with female musicians from various genres and backgrounds moderated by Sun Studio’s Clara Dashchund.

The February 9 event runs from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Wonder / Cowork / Create located at 340 B Monroe Avenue in The Edge. Tickets are $10, but can be purchased for $5 through February 6 with the early bird promo code ITKW-early. Tickets can be found here
The event is sponsored by In the Know Women, which publishes a calendar of events and experiences meant to engage Memphis women in their communities. 

High Ground sat down with Askew for a Q & A on music, entrepreneurship, sisterhood, and what she hopes for the event … like not giving birth on stage. 

Who’s Grace Askew?

Askew's sound is heavy on the blues with liberal doses of rock and country. 
Memphis singer-songwriter Grace Askew has seven albums, several prestigious awards, and has been featured on The Voice. She'll kick off the "Women Who Rock" series on February 9 at Wonder / Cowork / Create. (Submitted)
She's produced seven studio albums, spent a decade touring, and won several big honors in her career, including the International Songwriting Contest and John Lennon Songwriting Contest. 

In 2013, Askew competed in the fourth season of NBC’s The Voice. She covered Janis Joplin, Anne Peebles, and Nancy Sinatra before being eliminated in the 12th episode. 

In December 2019 she finished a self-imposed, two-year challenge to write and perform one song every day. She streamed the performances on social media, which garnered modeling and brand contracts with Stetson, Wrangler, and Tecovas. 

When asked if she had any record labels, managers, or close partners who should be mentioned, Askew gave props to her parents and lawyer slash husband, Jack. 

“Jack has helped tremendously in not only balancing my artistic brain, but also keeping me protected from any snaky people trying to do shady things with my music career,” she said.

The Q & A 

Why'd you sign on for the Women Who Rock series? 
I'm all about the sisterhood and women coming together to empower each other, and I'm really passionate about sharing what I can from my 15-plus years of being a writer and artist. I am thrilled, not only to share my story but also to learn from other women. 

What do you hope does or doesn’t happen while during your talk?
I hope I don't go into labor! February 9 is a full moon, and I'll be a little over 35 weeks pregnant. 

The evening's conversation is focused on lessons learned in your life and career. What's the single most important lesson that you've learned?
Diversify. Don't be a one-trick pony. Artists need to learn multiple skills to help them survive this business for the long run. As a general life lesson, it is so important to stay crystal clear on my ‘why.' It fuels the fire of motivation and keeps me pushing and evolving my craft and character.

Musicians, like all independent artists, are entrepreneurs. The products they sell are their talent and themselves. What's your journey been like from an entrepreneurial perspective?
I couldn't agree more. Every artist is a walking brand, for sure, and I truly enjoy getting creative with ways to express my brand and my lifestyle. On top of making music, of course. The story I sell is one of staying true to yourself. Living authentically and creating a focused, legacy-building career. Not a career that just follows the fleeting trends of the times. 

Any advice for women or girls looking to build a career as a creative entrepreneur?
Stay true to your gut feelings and instincts about your art and your path. There is room for everyone to shine, and the path that feels best deep down is the one that will also look, sound, and feel the most authentic to your audience. There is an audience for everyone. The haters or doubters of your journey were never meant to be in your tribe in the first place. It's that simple. 

For folks who aren't yet Grace Askew fans, what album should they listen to first?
My newest self-produced and released LP, “Denim & Diesel." Find it on Spotify.

When did you fall in love with music and know this is what you wanted to do with your life?  
When I was a freshman in college at Loyola University in New Orleans. I was obsessing over and missing Memphis. I fell in love with my hometown after leaving it. I rediscovering Elvis, Johnny Cash, Ann Peebles, and Howlin' Wolf. I dropped out after a year, moved back to Memphis, and got a little apartment in the heart of Midtown. I started my full-time songwriter/musician career at age 19 with gigs at all of the Midtown dive bars. 

Where do you see yourself and your career in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I see many of my original songs making it into film and television. I'll be playing the top songwriting festivals all over the world. My family will be living in Santa Fe and touring with me. I'd also love to collaborate with more brands I deeply admire, continue to model, and travel for photo shoots with amazing photographers.

In ten years, I’ll have solidified my Grace Askew Songwriting Retreats as a premiere experience to cultivate creativity and make lasting friendships in the music industry. They’ll be hosted in Santa Fe and Clarksdale, Mississippi. I'll also have my own songwriting festival helping to put the spotlight on other artists and up-and-comers. 
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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.