Valerie June at the Kennedy Center


Valerie June: Smile
Valerie June
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Dream, like when you were a kid.

Artist’s Note

“One of my lessons for this life is, how can I keep my energy?... I know darkness. I know the blues. And so how can I use the blues as a fuel for what I wish to say? You know, the negativity is always going to be there. It’s just, how do you work with it? We all have these seeds of darkness within us and we all have these seeds of light. We get the choice. 

“I see these songs almost like matches for people to strike when they need to reignite that inner light and keep going when things feel dark. I hope it helps them to feel empowered, to realize their strength and their beauty and all the gifts they have to give. And I hope it also helps people to recognize the light in everyone around them, so that we can all connect with each other in a kinder and gentler and more loving way.”

– Valerie June

About the Artist

Valerie June is an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Memphis, Tennessee. Her sound, which she describes as “organic moonshine roots music,” encompasses a mixture of folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, Appalachian, and bluegrass. See more here.

About the Contributor and Organization

Deborah J. Rutter, a member of the Academy and Co-chair of the Commission on the Arts, is President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Kennedy Center is a vibrant cultural hub that connects thousands of artists with millions of people each year — in person, online, and in their home communities. See more here.

The Kennedy Center’s Turnaround Arts program is a school reform effort that transforms priority schools through the strategic use of the arts. See more here.

Deborah F. Rutter

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Academy Member
Commission Member

Additional Notes

Valerie June’s performance was part of Black Women Breaking Ground, a 2021 Juneteenth celebration in which Turnaround Arts and the Kennedy Center present a night of music by groundbreaking Black women artists—artists who defy genre, innovate sonically, and combine the past and present in ways that inspire us to imagine a new future. 

Valerie June’s artist’s note comes, in part, from the New York Times article “Time-Warped Charm of Valerie June.” 

Copyright © 2021 by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Excerpted by permission of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher. 

Commission on the Arts

The Commission - drawing on the expertise of its members who are artists, scholars, activists, and leaders, as well as the input of people across the country who participated in listening sessions - dedicated itself to recognizing and supporting the essential role of the arts and artists in American life.