HOMETOWN: Monroe, La.
INFLUENCES: Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Billie Holiday
ALBUM: Introducing Hope Waits, out now
WEBSITE: hopewaits.com

If the depth in Hope Waits’ soul-drenched voice suggests experience beyond her tender years, it’s no accident. Waits was born one of 12 children in a family plagued by poverty, neglect, her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s manic depression. “Basic needs were rarely met, and the abuse was astounding,” she says. “But I love my family, and I would never want anyone to feel sorry for me.” Waits found sanctuary in music, teaching herself how to write songs while hiding beneath her bed. She made her escape at age 15, hopping on a Greyhound bus and traveling 700 miles to South Carolina where an older sister waited to take her in.

When Waits was 19 her mother was murdered by a still-unknown assailant, a tragedy that left her all the more determined to chase her long-held dream of a life in music. “I knew I would never find anything else to do in life that would bring me that kind of fulfillment,” she says. Waits performed around the South before making the move to Los Angeles. There she caught the attention of producer Peter Malick, who wound up manning the boards for her debut album. But her troubles weren’t over yet—Waits was diagnosed with a genetic hearing disorder that threatened to deafen her, a fact she kept to herself during the recording. “I felt that if people knew I was going deaf, I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a musician,” she says.

Two successful surgeries later, Waits’ hearing is almost fully restored and she’s ready to take on the world with her home-cooked stew of jazz, blues, soul and pop. “I know my mother would not be disappointed in me,” she says. “Maybe she didn’t make the best choices as a parent, but I am who I am because of her. She gave me my voice.”

“I felt that if people knew I was going deaf, I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a musician.”

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