Born in Ohio and moving to Birmingham by way of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, singer/songwriter Jennifer Christiansen has lived and performed in the metro Detroit area for more than two decades.
"It's sort of a weird story," Christiansen said about her move to the Motor City. "I got a job working on a dinner theater ship called 'The Spirit of Washington,' which went up the Potomac. I was traveling to New York for auditions, and then I auditioned for a cruise ship."
The ship, which was based out of Ft. Lauderdale, led Christiansen to land a gig in Japan with a band from Michigan. After hearing her perform, the band recruited her to play with them. Soon she was performing with Mel Ball and Colours, the Simone Vitale Band and the Royce and Jenn Band, in which she still performs with while launching new solo work.
Throughout her singing career, Christensen has performed as a background singer with The Four Tops, Peabo Bryson, Tony Bennett, Liza Minnelli, Barbara Mandrell, Brian McKnight, Rick James, Jessica Simpson, Chubby Checker and others. She sang at the inaugural ball for former president George W. Bush. She also has performed the national anthem at just about every sports team in Detroit, often substituting for Karen Newman at Red Wings games.
"I worked for the Pistons and did it a lot then," she said. "I also worked for the women's basketball team and the Vipers – do you remember them? I was a judge for the Pistons when they wanted to branch out with more singers. The only arena in Detroit I haven't done is the new Little Caesars Arena."
Prior to singing professionally, Christiansen got her start while traveling with her father, who also worked as a musician.
"I was a little kid the first time I sang. It was at a county fair but I can't remember all of it," she said. "I do remember the first song. It was 'Delta Dawn.' My dad was a musician and he was touring in Wisconsin. He had me come up and sing. We still have a reel-to-reel tape of it.
"My family was in music and theater when I was young. Both of my parents died when I was young, and I started professionally when I was 18-years-old."
Today, Christiansen sings throughout Birmingham and the metro Detroit area, at stadiums and local restaurants and clubs. More recently, she has taken to helping seniors through her musical talents as a certified specialized movement professional at senior homes throughout the area, including All Seasons in Birmingham.
"With the senior homes, they take a lot of time. I usually do about 15 to 20 each month," she said. "It brings me a lot of joy. When a person in a wheelchair who hasn't really spoken in months is smiling and singing because I do a song that rings a bell – it's just a joy."
As a child of the '70s, Christiansen said she likes older music, particularly R&B, best.
"I really dig the old school music more than the current. I like music more on the R&B side, but most of my mentors are local, like Royce Javan, Karen Newman, Bridgett Grace, Jeff Scott, Gwen Foxx and so many that I learned from."
Photo: Laurie Tennent