Lizz Wright defies categorization.
She grew up singing gospel, but discovered a love for jazz. Her first time performing in an Atlanta club, she sang the hymn Amazing Grace – but as the blues.
Her career is taking off, not only as a rhythm-and-blues singer, but as a genre-defying performer who brings a bit of soul to everything she does, said Karen Gordon of Garden City Jazz.
Wright performs in Augusta on Saturday, the final day of Augusta’s Westobou Festival. Her performance is presented by Garden City Jazz.
“I just love her and I think other people will, too,” Gordon said. “I love her music. I love her stage presence. I love her voice and I love that she is a small town Georgia girl.”
The Westobou Festival, Augusta’s 10-day celebration of arts began Sept. 29 and has featured about 50 performances celebrating local, regional and national talent, said Molly McDowell, the festival’s curator and artistic director.
Wright’s performance is just the sort of event that characterizes the festival, McDowell said.
“She’s an up-and-comer,” she said. “We want people to say, ‘I saw her first in Augusta,’ or ‘If I didn’t see her, I should have.’ ”
Saturday’s concert is one of two big performances closing out the festival.
Symphony Orchestra Augusta presents A John Williams Spectacular, featuring the iconic work of the composer best known for scores from the films Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter.
A 200-voice chorus will accompany the 90-piece orchestra.
Singers from across the community were assembled by Joel Scraper, the director of choral activities at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
Members from The Davidson Chorale, Evans High School Choir, First Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir, Paine College Choir, Saint John United Methodist Church Choir, and the USC Aiken Concert Choir will perform selections from Saving Private Ryan, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars Episode I: Phantom Menace.
Audience members shouldn’t be surprised to see both performers and attendees in costume, said Maestro Shizuo Z Kuwahara.
“There are many surprises but you will have to wait and see at the concert,” he said.
For fans of the films, a live symphony performance provides an unparalleled experience, Kuwahara said.
“In a live performance you feel like you are in the film in the scene as it is taking place,” he said. “Saving Private Ryan is very emotional to watch on film but it’s two dimensional and limiting. To hear Saving Private Ryan in the concert makes you emotionally involved and connected as though you are in the trenches, standing next to the characters. You actually feel through sound and not just the visuals. Live music happens in the moment.”
While the orchestra performs John Williams’ classics at the Bell Auditorium, Wright will “wow” audiences at the Imperial, Gordon said.
On Saturday, the singer will perform with Kenny Banks, the Atlanta-based pianist who Wright credits for her transition into jazz.
“I played my first set with him in a club in Atlanta when I was 19,” Wright said. She now lives outside of Asheville, N.C., but grew up in Hahira, Ga., and attended Georgia State University.
As the daughter of a minister, she grew up without much secular music in her house. Her father would instead read to them, often from the works of Shakespeare.
“I’m thankful for that now,” she said. “I really have a love for words. I see myself as a storyteller and an interpreter.”
Having been sheltered from contemporary music, Wright said a certain hunger was awoken in her once she set out into the world.
“It wasn’t even rebellion. You just know you have this big gap in your life,” she said. “I’ve literally been craving music and stories. It made me hungry and it made me curious.”
Wright said she has a couple records in her that need to be made, some of which she’s considering recording in Asheville.
“I want to make something that reflects the way I live now,” she said. “I’ve always gone to New York. I’ve done the usual thing. It’s time to do the unexpected.”