Soul is in the blood of Jamela Bullock. Her mother -- and biggest inspiration Emily Jones, released an album in 1979 titled "Take Me Body and Soul." But it wasn't the disco grooves of the late '70s that Bullock grew up on in her hometown in Germany.
"I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music," Bullock says. "It just wasn't acceptable, and this was in the '80s and '90s when music really was not as negative as it is today."
So it was gospel that built the foundation of young Jamela's appreciation for music, along with her mother's guidance. "My mother not only taught me how to sing," she says, "but the responsibility that goes along with having a God-given gift."
Bullock is gifted indeed. With velvety vocals a la Jill Scott, the 27-year-old songstress has turned out her first CD, "Wonderfully Flawed," worked with top names such as Elliott Yamin and Terry "Big Planz" Thompson, and can be heard on various commercials, including those for the Virginia Lottery and The Room Store.
These days she manages to find harmony between the sacred and secular worlds of music. She's caught some flak about her lyrics not being solely about God, but explains: "I felt like gospel music only told one side and secular told another. I've decided to talk about life, love and God on each of my albums to create balance."
Regulars at Tropical Soul's Verses! are no strangers to the sweet sounds of her well-tuned pipes. Ever humble, the striking Bullock says she's not trying to be a showstopper and "just does what feels right," noting that Richmond is full of talent that regularly frequents the Jackson Ward hot spot. "It's not all about me," she says. "I love hearing the band and the other artists."
When she's not consumed by writing and performing, Bullock works for T-Mobile and recently graduated from massage therapy school. She's also admittedly fascinated by more lofty things like the mind, and conversation suggests she's a bit of an old soul. "The human mind is so complex, it's a shame more of us won't search the deeper places in it," she says. "A lot of talent is left dormant, but it is there. It's all up to the individual."
There's a contagious, positive vibe that fuels her music, as well as a sense that she's followed her own advice. Bullock also believes in the social responsibility of musicians in the public eye that's often brushed off. She recalls a recent television show that asked, "Who has more influence on youth: artists or authority?"
"The artists featured on the show stated that they felt no responsibility to the youth for their music," she says. "I disagree. I believe that any person who makes their voice heard to the public has a responsibility to the public."
A rarity these days, Jamela is an artist of style and substance and that's enough to make any mother proud.
Jamela Bullock's CDs are available at Plan 9 in Carytown and at cdbaby.com/jamela and www.jamelabullock.com.