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'It's All About the Music' for Milwaukee Songstress Lili K

Photo by Dakota Harper
Lili K

Milwaukee-raised songstress Lili K started performing young - through church and elementary school choirs. The Milwaukee High School of the Arts alum studied classical, opera and jazz vocals and received an education in arts, entertainment and media management at Columbia College Chicago.

Lili has since used her lifelong passion of music to rise in Chicago’s music scene. She has been featured on an array of albums and projects with artists, such as Chance the Rapper and was Tidal's first artist featured on "Tidal Rising." She has released a number of EPs as well as her first full album, Ruby, in 2015.

"I make music because I love to, not necessarily because I want any type of fame or notoriety for it. I think it's more so about sharing this music and this love for it and this good feeling that comes with it," she says.

Lili K grew up listening to copious amounts of Motown, gospel influences from church and artists such as Gladys Night and the Jackson 5. While attending middle school at Roosevelt School of the Arts, she discovered jazz and her true voice.

"Hearing jazz made me look at my voice differently and helped me to access it and utilize it to my advantage," she explains. "Hearing jazz was kind of the moment that really changed my life as far as being a singer."

Lili also attributes her strong musical foundation to her arts education in Milwaukee. "Arts education has the ability to really guide a person, whether they want to go into arts or not," she explains. "It just kind of gives you this foundation and this option, this different way of thinking that more is possible. And that's the biggest thing I think I learned through studying at [Milwaukee High School of the Arts]."

Lili currently lives and works on her music in Chicago, but she says she is happy to be part of both "phenomenal music scenes." However, she also likes to make it known that though many people refer to her as a Chicago artist, she represents Milwaukee "as much as (she) can because it's where (she's) from."

One major project in which Milwaukee is the star is her music video for the song, Tommy.

Shot in locations around the Milwaukee area, such as her grandparent's backyard in Greenfield and at a library at the University of Milwaukee, her Tommy video encompasses all that she loves about the city.

As a self-produced artist, Lili also enjoys the artistic freedom available to her when creating a music video for a song. "I love the visual aspect of it. It's just so much fun and it allows you to convey what you had in mind," she says.

Credit Courtesy of Lili K
The Lili K band (from left to right) Cullen Bogan (guitar), Matthew Skillz (bass), Lili K (vocals), Phil Patterson (keyboards), Myron Cherry (drums & percussion).

With her second album underway, Lili plans to expand her sound and apply the lessons she learned from producing her first album to create something entirely different. In contrast to Ruby that featured songs she wrote, the upcoming project includes songs written by her and the members of the Lili K band.

Although there have been offers to sign on to a contract, Lili remains a self-produced artist. For her, the control of her content is of the utmost importance.

"It's my music at the end of the day and I don't want anybody else to own it," she explains. "Signing to a label can be really tricky...I think I would totally benefit from signing to a label, but it has to be the right deal, it has to be the right time. It's not something that should ever be rushed into, which is where a lot of careers end up failing."

Although she and the band are happy with creating their own music, "the tricky part is figuring out how to market the music and get it out when you don't have a big machine behind you," Lili says. "But it's definitely worth it because at least you get to keep doing what you love and music doesn't turn into this day job that you end up hating. I never want to hate music, and so that's one of the reasons I'm holding onto it so so tightly."

Lili K will be in Milwaukee Wednesday evening for a performance at Milwaukee’s Freespace at Jazz Gallery for a free and interactive show for Milwaukee teens interested in music. Lili K and the Lili K band will also be performing in Madison on June 2nd at the Memorial Union for Terrace After Dark.

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.