‘R&B Empress’ Lay’na Michelle Recounts Her Steady Climb

The rising singer has waded through trauma toward happiness and triumph, bringing her fans along or the ride.

Lay'na Michelle

From overcoming domestic violence to being presented the Spirit of Detroit Award, westside native Lay’na Michelle is more than a singer – she’s a survivor. Through the years, Michelle has transformed trauma into tracks and tracks into inspiration for those existing in the same spaces she once lived.

The self-described “R&B Empress” has come a long way from writing songs about saving bunnies at the age of 3 – as her mother tells it – to producing songs like “Battle Scars,” which imbue a sense of fearlessness and vigor in those wrestling with leaving abusive partnerships. Michelle says her personal story – along with a joint of the cannabis strain Blue Dream, which she smokes to treat her PTSD – aided in formulating the lyrics behind one of the most popular songs from her album Blue Dream Ave.

She says, “I was young when I was affected by domestic violence. I thought I was in love until he slammed my head into the wall. It woke me up, but at the same time, I was still in love. The only thing that got me out of that was (that) he moved away. I got into another relationship, and he talked to me like I was the scum of the earth. What got me out of that relationship is that he cheated. It’s like I had to sit back and say, ‘What are you doing wrong?’”

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This all leads to her meeting the love of her life, her music investor and longtime manager Russell Jarrett. Jarrett is the one who encouraged Michelle to pursue a music career full-time after he heard her singing in the shower. From that day on, Michelle says he has been one of her biggest supporters, and she attributes much of her current success to their partnership.

Not only did the “I Want 2 Know” singer win the Spirit of Detroit Award last year, but she also was nominated for an Indie Music Award for Female Artist of the Year. And she’s nominated for thicknation.org’s BBW Female Artist of the Year.

In addition, Michelle performed for the Detroit Pistons twice in two months, making her the first independent African American artist to perform original music for the Pistons fans at Little Caesars Arena. This fun fact garnered her a temporary exhibit at the Wright, which displayed the outfit she wore, a photo and a little about Michelle and her career.

“I always told my family that I was going to be in the Charles H. Wright Museum,” Michelle says. “I didn’t know if it was going to be from inventing something. I didn’t know if it was going to be from a famous quote. I just never knew what it was going to be for, and then this happened over 10 years later. It’s like, oh my goodness, I spoke it and it happened. There is power in the tongue.”

Michelle says Blue Dream Aveexudes life, inspiration, happiness and triumph. She explains how songs such as “Battle Scars”extend power to the weak-hearted, and songs like “I Want 2 Know”and “Growing Pains” delve into the expectations in relationships and the gray areas in between. “You’re going to go through emotions, but in the end, you’re going to be happy you listened to it, because you’re going to be happy about every song I put on the album,” she says.

The singer is currently working on a mixtape but took a brief hiatus when she started to have seizures from what doctors say is “unresolved sexual assault trauma.” Despite this setback, she sets her sights on The Empress Mall, her “sip ’n’ shop” event scheduled for April 25 at the VFW Hall in Southfield.

“I want to let people know you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it,” Michelle says. “Through everything that I’ve been through, I am strong enough to get through anything that life tries to throw at me, and that feels really, really good.” 

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