Su Charles’ newborn son laid cradled into her hands as an American Idol commercial announcing its upcoming auditions in Denver, appeared on the TV screen in 2011. Determined to finally go face-to-face with her fate, Charles camped out with her child outside the doors to her destiny, which would soon lead to a fearless journey of artistry.
Now, better known as “Such,” this soul songstress and east coast native is leading a promising life after making it past Hollywood and breaking down the defeat of not being granted to the finish line of competition TV.
Instead, she’s basking in the glory of her recent release and sophomore album, Wide Nose Full Lips, an unapologetic love letter to blackness as she describes, by traveling overseas to share her gift through intimate concerts with her growing fan base. “When I was a kid, I had a family member who would pinch my nose and tell me that my nose was too wide. To tell me that I should have a thinner nose of Eurocentric features, that sort of self-hatred. As a kid you internalize it. I grew up thinking I wasn’t pretty based on that. Also, there’s the stuff in media and perpetuating those ideas and those thoughts. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten more comfortable in my skin and I realized that my features are beautiful. I do feel like there’s been this beautiful, “Black Renaissance” happening over the years with representation; being able to see people that are my complexion that are beautiful. If I can just be one more thing to remind little girls, little boys, that they are beautiful just as they are with their wide nose and full lips, that is huge.”
Such’s introduction to music was nothing less than a memorable experience. Her church played a vital role in the sound and spirit of music, even influencing her approach to life in a way where her faith empowers and invigorates her. However, it was at the age of 15 when she got a true slice of a musician’s life, after being chosen to participate in the Grammy High School Jazz Ensemble.
Picture this. A 10-day all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles, performing in local jazz clubs, a performance at the Grammy-nominee party, attending the Grammys and the icing on the cake, the opportunity to record an album.
Dreams were coming true right before 15-year-old Such’s eyes. She remembers never received formal training and living an hour away from the nearest performing arts school getting in the way of her attending. Her experience in the ensemble left such a huge mark on her, that she returned home to convince her parents through a self-orchestrated PowerPoint Presentation that she could be a musician.
“If I can just be one more thing to remind little girls, little boys, that they are beautiful just as they are, with their wide nose and full lips, that is huge.”
But to Such’s parents’ dismay, the life of a struggling musician was not what they envisioned for their daughter’s future. She didn’t blame them though, and from that day forward began focusing on a practical way of life; physical therapy that would eventually transition into nursing. “Honestly everything that I love about nursing I do with my music. What I loved about nursing is taking care of people, I still do that with music. I loved the person-to-person interaction. I loved the healing aspect of it. I loved building a rapport with my patients.”
Who knew a short time later, a self-indicted assignment through her field would be bringing her back to an ultimate calling. This would be the 2010 devastating earthquake in Haiti that tugged hard on Such’s very own Haitian roots. She went down to the country for ten days to aid, perform surgical procedures and care for those affected by the natural disaster. “I just remember being like “life is short,” and I know music has always been my calling and I don’t want to have regrets later in life. I didn’t want that to be my story. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but when I got back, I just started to phase out nursing a little bit and started to perform more.”
Her return would prompt the courageous American Idol audition, and after running its course, an abundance of encouragement to ride solo on the next steps of fulfilling her love for music. She would then officially quit her nursing job and record her first album, Trial and Error, right in her basement.
With no industry connections or support, Such was determined to make it as an independent artist. Something to this day she takes pride in, despite the obstacles, and graciously accepting what it’s been able to fume for her creative wise. “Being an independent artist is awesome because you get to get rid of the middleman and get music directly to the fans. Sometimes it can be hard to cut through the clutter. Of course, there are financial issues because you don’t have the big money backing you, so you have to get creative. So, I get creative with different ways of doing things which is really fun. If I don’t have a big marketing budget, I have to figure out how to get my product in people’s hands and how do I let them know about me and how do I use social media to help and how do I take advantage of every conversation I have. I really enjoy it; it’s been a fun journey.”
“I just remember being like “life is short,” and I know music has always been my calling and I don’t want to have regrets later in life. I didn’t want that to be my story.
Her creative juices are steady flowing, creating inspiration and awareness through the excellence that blackness withholds, and how remembering our fallen soldiers whose lives were gone too soon has impacted her decisions musically and personally. Another purpose for the title Wide Nose Full Lips, comes from the police description of Philando Castille, a black male shot and killed in the summer of 2016 by a Minnesota officer.
Such is never shy of admiration, being inspired or using her day-to-day and surroundings to enhance her sound. She pulls from 90s R&B, her favorite genre to date, artists like Sade’s mysterious but recognizable, relevant and relatable musical strategy, Stevie Wonder’s magical influence, Fantasia’s distinctively infectious voice, or Whitney and Mariah’s riffs and runs to remind her that there’s more than one style and never an exact limit. “There is no formula. Your story is unique. Enjoy the journey and watch it unfold. A lot of times we want to get to the finished product, but the journey is so delicious and there are so many amazing things that can happen along the way. Know that there’s room for you. People make it seem like there can only be one but remember there’s only one you and what you have to say is unique to you. Step into that fully.”
Such’s success story is far from a phase and more like a never-ending Cinderella story. The chapters of this book still being written has birthed hit singles and chart-climbers like “Sugar Maple” and “Before Dark, as well as blooming acting aspirations through her notable portrayal as Celie in the stage adaptation of The Color Purple; earning her Broadway World Best Actress and Best Acting Debut awards.
At the end of the day, she’s still a mother who loves organizing things, journaling, burying her nose in a book, tapping into humanely spiritual experiences through yoga and believes she may have been a home flipper in another life. “Everything that we experience sort of deposits in us. My transition has been over the course of my lifetime and is still happening today. Every now and then I joke, because I’m like “Yo, I cannot wait to meet my sixty-five-year-old self,” because I feel like she is going to be incredible and probably more emancipated. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t like birthdays as you age. I love it. I look forward to it. Every year I step more into my skin, I become more comfortable with who I am. I become more emancipated, I just feel more free. Like with everybody, I feel there have been things that have helped me become who I am from every experience.”
“A lot of times we want to get to the finished product, but the journey is so delicious and there are so many amazing things that can happen along the way.”
Such will be heading back to London at the top of next year, and fresh out of multiple visits and shows from this year to open for PJ Morton which she says is going to be the bomb.
She’ll also be dropping a new music video soon and opening for Marsha Ambrosia at the end of October, and doing a solo show in November at the City Winery in Chicago. “Great things are happening, and I cannot wait to see what’s going to pop up.”