Kansas City Loves This Eclectic Singer, Who is Also Making Her Mark Abroad
— Bill Sundahl, special events coordinator of KKFI 90.1 FM Kansas City Community Radio
Julia Haile is taking Kansas City by storm.
“Her voice and stage presence are second to none, and her body of work is growing to be some of the best to come out of this city,” said Bill Sundahl, special events coordinator of KKFI 90.1 FM Kansas City Community Radio.
Haile performed with well-known singer-songwriter Barclay Martin at the June 30 “Collaborations” fundraiser event for KKFI at the Folly Theater, where the two debuted two original “personal and spiritual” pieces.
“Kansas City Star” music critic Tim Finn loved it, writing, “Magic comes close to describing what transpired between Haile and Martin.” For his part, Martin lauded Haile’s “creative spirit . . . which brought out the best in us both.”
Haile regularly performs with guitarist Tim Braun. They often appear with their larger band, HiLux, which includes Nick Howell on trumpet and keyboard, Pete Liebert on bass and Kian Byrne (also of The Elders) on drums.
This summer Haile was everywhere.
She played Boulevardia. She was the headliner for the Annual Gather & Grow dinner at BoysGrow Farm with chef Ted Habiger.
She was part of the lineup for teen open mike night at the Nelson-Atkins in July. She took the stage each Thursday night in August at Ca Va and several Saturday nights at Corvino Supper Club.
In early August, Haile and Braun followed Calvin Arsenia for the Stockyard Sounds series at Stockyard Brewing Company, playing to a sold-out crowd. According to emcee Charlie Upchurch, co-chair, Generation Listen KC, and announcer on KCUR, Haile “packed the house, charmed everyone there, and made it an effortlessly successful event.”
The next week she headlined at Minibar on Broadway and finalized plans for a solo show at the Greenwood Social Hall on October 20.
Haile is steadily establishing herself — here, certainly, but also as far away as Paris, where this year she traveled twice for week-long performances with award-winning KC jazz artist Hermon Mehari (who has moved there). Haile plans to return to Paris, probably in spring 2018. She also performed at the Visit KC annual event in Chelsea, New York City, in June.
Haile first attracted attention as a singer with The Good Foot, a Motown/Soul cover band, playing weddings and corporate events, as well as music venues, like Knuckleheads and Crosstown Station.
That’s when Sundahl heard her for the first time; she also made a deep impression on Martin.
“I became aware of Julia through The Good Foot,” he said, “and I was struck by her phrasing and the way she delivers lines. I’ve loved (rehearsing) with Julia for her presence and her voice, but also for the way it stretches me beyond my own writing patterns into something that’s becoming an interesting blend of us both.”
R&B is only one of Julia’s many styles. She’s definitely “eclectic,” in her words. She loves classics from the American Songbook and has had periods of concentration of Ella Fitzgerald and Jerome Kern. She does standards and masters jazz pieces; in Paris, she and Mehari often “jammed” for the appreciative audiences and even debuted an original song, “I Can’t Let Go” (music by Mehari and lyrics by Haile), which they hope to record.
Years ago at the Record Bar, Mehari and Haile did an all-Michael Jackson show, which is still talked about by fans. She dabbles in country. She has four recordings available on Bandcam.com with more to come. She has an album (yet untitled) and a video. She is working on more original pieces with her band members: They compose the music and Haile writes the lyrics.
Saturday mornings Haile often sings at the Center for Spiritual Living. She appreciates the freedom of this non-traditional venue and enjoys choosing meaningful messages and melodies, which she performs between meditation and philosophy presentations. R&B diva India Arie is an artist whose songs she frequently highlights.
Haile grew up with two brothers in Lee’s Summit and Raytown, and music was a prominent part of her upbringing. Her mother played guitar and sang. Her uncle Elton Gumbel was a light jazz recording artist. Her aunt, Roberta Gumbel, was an accomplished opera singer. Haile attended the Conservatory at UMKC but left before graduating to spread her wings.
Food was another passion in the Haile family. Haile’s mother grew up in New Orleans and was an inspired cook; gumbo reigned supreme and still does. Haile praises local chef Shanita McAfee-Bryant and her food truck Magnolia’s as providing a real taste of the southern cuisine she loves.
Besides music and food, fashion is included in her repertoire. She works and consults regularly at Clothz Minded in Westport.
For the moment, Haile is very happy with the way things are going, and she acknowledges she’s “made a little splash” so far. Her dream is to keep Kansas City as a home base but to travel extensively, paying “homage to the music I love.”
Above: photo by Jim Barcus / styling by Natalie Norman