On Cello and Vocals, Shana Tucker Blends Classical, Jazz, Folk and More

Meet Shana Tucker, a musician who grew up in New York but calls North Carolina home.
by Susanna Klingenberg | photo by Janelle Blackman

Shana Tucker can lean into her New York accent when the occasion calls for it. It was Long Island public schools that got her started in music, after all. But the cellist and singer-songwriter knows that roots don’t tell the whole story: “I tell people, ‘I grew up in New York, but I’m from North Carolina.’” 

As her chosen home kicks off the “Come Hear North Carolina” campaign in what Governor Roy Cooper has declared “The Year of Music,” Tucker is excited to contribute to the fun—both on-stage and in classrooms across the state. She chose North Carolina in part for its thriving music scene and rich musical heritage: “James Taylor, Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie, Roberta Flack, Anthony Hamilton, The Avett Brothers, so many more. There’s something in the water here!” The diversity of North Carolina’s musical heritage is reflected in Tucker’s style: you’ll hear bits of soul, jazz, samba, down-tempo pop, classical and folk. She calls it ChamberSoul—a nod to her classical training, but also a description of the intimacy she nurtures with fellow musicians and listeners. 

That intimacy is embodied in her story-forward lyrics and warm stage presence, full of honest backstory and a deep appreciation for her audience. Instead of letting her technical mastery create distance, she uses it to draw listeners in, as if she were saying with a wink, “C’mere. Listen to this.”

Her sound is described as a mix between Dianne Reeves, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Bill Withers. But however you describe it, the joy in Tucker’s work is this: her beats make you groove, her lyrics make you nod in recognition and her wide-open love of music makes you come back for more. The crowd that keeps coming back for more is just as diverse as Tucker’s ChamberSoul style. The seats at a recent Haw River Ballroom concert held some of the usual suspects—fellow musicians and creatives, locals and their families. But there was also a crew of teachers from schools Tucker had visited and down front, a rowdy, whoop-y throng: Tucker’s friends from the gym. 

This generous approach to her art serves Tucker as well in the classroom as it does on the stage. A passionate advocate for arts education, Tucker frequently visits local schools to deliver workshops, talk about the creative process and co-write lyrics with kids. She serves as an A+ (Arts Integration) School Fellow in Wake County, working with students, faculty, and staff to ensure the arts are a fundamental part of education across the curriculum. 

Michael Tiemann, co-owner and general manager of Manifold Records in Pittsboro, says teaching is just a logical extension of what Tucker does on stage: “She’s a natural teacher and leader. She does a great job of reading a room, whether it’s a room full of musicians or a room full of kids.” And Tiemann would know: he recently commissioned Tucker to write a new composition to be recorded at Manifold Records. As he watched her shape the ensemble and the piece, he recorded the process of moving from idea to arrangement to rehearsal to final recording. The resulting documentary will be released later this year, and the commissioned piece, “In the Moment,” will debut late this summer. 

In the meantime, be sure to grab tickets now to the July 26 performance at Sharp 9 Gallery in Durham, where Tucker and saxophonist James “Saxmo” Gates will cover the album Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley