Limitless Sky

ky Covington is something else.

Like many Detroit artists, Nicole "Sky" Covington’s music is comprised of a mélange of styles. If pressed to classify the sound, Covington says, "Jazz, soul and house. But I would like to put it all in one ball, and not label it, if I could.

"I didn’t consider myself a jazz artist until [2010] when I was named Best Jazz Vocalist for the Detroit Black Music Awards," she laughs. "So I guess I’m a jazz vocalist!"

Yes, her vocal timbre and inflections draw comparisons to beloved Billie Holiday, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone. But it is her passion for what she calls "alternative improv" that evokes the spirits of jazz. "That’s been my thing for years, just getting the band together and creating on the spot," she says.

Covington was born and raised on the west side of Detroit. "I knew what I wanted to do early on," she  remembers. "My mother [Charlene Fort] even knew I would be a singer. She called me her ‘million-dollar baby.’ It was just written."


Her family wasn’t particularly musical. "My father [Tommy Covington] carried around an empty trumpet case to get the girls. That’s how he got my mother," she says. "My mother has a beautiful voice, but interior design is her thing."

Covington didn’t become serious about performing until age 19. She had begun to sing in glee clubs and junior choirs in school. But she left home at age 15 after convincing her mother to let her marry an older man. When that didn’t work out, she had to fend for herself.

"I had married young and divorced young, and I found myself out in this big world by myself. I had to do something," she says. "The only thing I could do was live out my dreams. I had to create myself."

So she hit the road. "I gave everything away. I had one of those big army bags, and whatever would fit in the bag, that’s what I carried. So for three or four years, I just traveled." While she was on the road, she read palms, did handwriting analysis, performed poetry and performance art to make ends meet.

Her first stop was Atlanta. Under a crescent Georgia moon, she says the name Sky "fell upon" her. The word symbolizes her philosophy of life: There are no limits.

After some stints traveling out west and lingering around San Francisco, Covington returned to Detroit for a short time. While she was back home, she met poet-activist John Sinclair. He helped get her a residency at the Audubon Hotel in Louisiana.

"New Orleans changed my life," she says. She became enamored with the people, the culture and the music. It also made her more professional as she worked with top musicians for the nine years she lived there.

Then in the late spring of 2005, her mother called Covington and asked her to come home. "[My mother] was uneasy. She said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I need you to come back home."

Two months later Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. "I lost a lot of friends," Covington says. "When my mother asks me to do something, I do it."

After returning to Detroit, she released the album "Urban Fairy Tales," published a book of poetry called "The Reflections of a Lazy Brain" and toured with Detroit house superstar Kenny "Moodymann" Dixon Jr.

She’s currently working on a new album called "God Lives in My Microphone" which she hopes to release in April of 2012. "Around my birthday [April 6]. That’ll be my baby," she says. "So hold on. I’ve got something real special for you that I’ve been working on all these years."

If her live performances are any indication, the album will be worth the wait. Covington’s audiences experience intense intimacy, drama, improvisation and fun.

Whether she’s singing soul, house or Billie Holiday’s blues with her expressive alto, expect jazz to drip from her voice, sticky sweet like molasses.


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