Shayna Steele, Background Singer For Bette Midler & Rihanna, will perform in Biloxi on June 18

Sun Herald
Shayna Steele will perform on the Coast on June 18
JUNE 14, 2016 5:14 AM

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Call it the return of the hometown girl who’s done well. Really well.

Shayna Steele, who left the Coast in 1993 to pursue a career in New York, is coming back with her touring band for a performance at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs at 7:30 p.m. June 18. Tickets, at $20 general admission, are available at

She’s been back several times to visit her parents, Bobby and Kande Steele of Biloxi, as well as for special events, such as receiving the Biloxian Made Good award and performing in Sounds of the Holidays and in Lynn Meadows’ “Dreams,” all in 2009.

“For those, it was just a couple of songs,” she said in a phone interview this week. “This time, I’ll be performing with my band, and a lot of them I’m been touring with the past 12 years. I said, ‘You know what? I need to bring this back to my hometown.'”

The concert will feature Steele and her own jazz-flavored songs, many of which have made their way onto two albums.

“I never thought that a girl from Biloxi, from a small town, would get to do what I’ve gotten to do,” she said. “Biloxi isn’t really that small, but when you compared it to big cities, it is. It still has that small-town feel. I want to be able to go back and say yes, this is possible, it’s possible to come to New York from a small town and make it,” she said.

That’s not to say it’s easy.

“There is a lot of hard work. It’s extremely competitive and continues to be. It’s time-consuming, expensive and heartbreaking. Every day you can want to quit, but you don’t. I mean, there’s nothing else I can do,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t want to sound corny, but I was born to do this.”

With her father in the Air Force, Steele “grew up all over the world.

“Some people might move closer to New York to have access, but for us, it was ‘We’re moving when the Air Force moves us,’ and we made the most of the situation. I knew it would take me doing this on my own, and I needed to be around the best.”

In the middle of it

Steele lived in New York for 19 years, during which she hit the night scene to see and be seen, performed in shows such as “Rent” and “Hairspray” and got to sing with such names as John Legend, Queen Latifah, Kelly Clarkson, Natasha Bedingfield and Moby. In the meantime, she began working with David Cook on her own songs; that partnership developed into a marriage, and now they have a daughter.

“When I lived in New York, I kind of needed to be in the middle of it. I needed to show up — go to plays, go to parties, if somebody was having a record release, go to that. It was great, to get to know the artists, and it’s part of the job,” she said.

Now, with a family, however, Steele lives in a New Jersey suburb, about 30 minutes away from Manhattan.

Start of summer tour

The Ocean Springs performance is coming at the start of her summer tour, which centers on Europe.

“Finding a venue was really hard, but the Mary C is a perfect venue,” she said.

Joining her will be husband David Cook on piano, Sam Simms on bass, Ryan Scott on guitar, Ross Pederson on drums and Taku Hirano on percussion.

Steele is not one to name drop, but press her for a story and she brings up two powerhouse entertainers who greatly influenced her.

“I’ve sung backup for a lot of artists,” she said. “If you do it a lot, people just call — ‘Call Shayna! She’ll do it!’ It’s easy to get trapped in the background world. But the thing that really changed me was working for Bette Midler and Rihanna back to back. They are from two different generations, but what do they have in common? They’re both women, they’ve both been controversial. Bette Midler — I learned so much from working with her. She never lets mistakes bother her. I learned to embrace mistakes on stage. She missed lyrics, too, but would just work with it, let it work in her favor.

“Rihanna is much younger than I am. But she can do everything. She is an artist. When I was with her, she was recording an album, so she would do the show then go in the studio and record. She had a fashion line and was doing a movie, too. She would walk into rehearsal and look like a million bucks. She looked like a rock star all around, totally on her game.”

Avoids the spotlight

While she doesn’t want the under-a-microscope life superstars like Rihanna have, Steele still admires them.

“It’s so inspiring for my own stuff,” she said. “It definitely inspires me to work hard.”

Steele is working on her third album, which is being done “the old-school way. I wanted to write the songs before we go on tour, then do them on tour to perfect them, then record.”

While she admits she’s too much of a perfectionist to do a live album, she also didn’t want a too-polished sound that can come from a studio recording. She’s aiming for the in-the-moment feel of a live performance by singing along with the band in the studio.

As for the Ocean Springs date, “If anybody saw me in ‘The Wiz’ in 1993, and they loved it, this will be a lot better!” she said, laughing. “No really, especially if your kids are into music. There’ll be no cursing, no revealing clothing. I plan to take my child to as many concerts and plays and performances as possible. Art inspires anybody going through anything. Music is a universal language, and it helps and supports anybody through anything. I guarantee a stellar show.”

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