Breaking boundaries. Yola was named the first ever Song of Soul winner ahead of the 2022 American Music Awards on Sunday, November 20.
The “Diamond Studded Shoes” songstress, 39, will perform her track “Break the Bough” live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, marking her first appearance on the awards show. “I have long dreamed of performing at the American Music Awards, and honored to be included during the ‘Song of the Soul’ moment,” the Elvis actress said in a statement in October. “I hope the song brings a little peace and joy to anyone who has lost someone close to them regardless of how challenging the relationship may have been.”
The U.K. native went on to explain that she wrote “Break the Bough” in tribute to her mother, who died in 2013. “‘Break the Bough’ creates a loving false construct of what I hope my mother experienced in her afterlife,” Yola — whose full name is Yolanda Quartey — explained. “A mix of all the things she held dear and brought her happiness during her life. Specifically, her pre-Windrush Barbados childhood, disco and sci-fi.”
Though Yola’s AMAs honor includes the world “soul,” her music also incorporates elements of rock, Americana, R&B and country — and she likes to keep listeners guessing. “You might go, ‘That’s quite a countrified song’ — then you listen to the drums, and it’s kind of a Mersey beat,” she told Variety of her song “Whatever You Want” in July 2021. “Then you go, ‘OK, that’s maybe a bit Stax-ier than I thought it was. But that doesn’t really sound like a soul melody. Hmm, there’s something a little bit Brit-y here. Is that … Stone Roses?’ Yeah! It’s Britpop, people. I’m English!”
The “Walk Through Fire” singer has been candid about the struggles she’s faced over the years as a Black woman in the music industry. “One record company executive told me that no one wanted to hear a Black woman singing rock ‘n’ roll, which I thought would be a challenge given a Black woman invented it,” Yola told Elle UK in June, referring to pioneering musician Sister Rosetta Tharpe. “That was the kind of ignorance I had to deal with, from punter and peer to executive level.”
Yola played Tharpe, who was known as “the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” in Baz Luhrmann‘s 2022 biopic, Elvis. “There is no Elvis without Sister Rosetta, categorically,” the “Stand for Myself” singer told Grazia in August, adding that it was a “profound honor” to play the rock legend. “It’s the environment of Black America that made her, and then she makes this wonderful gift that we all get to take for granted.”
Keep scrolling for five things to know about Yola: