2019 American Music Awards

Former Speechwriter Becomes Grammy Nominee

Trading a promising career as a speechwriter to become a singer/songwriter is paying off for Wayna. The independent artist became a first-time Grammy Award nominee last December when her single, "Lovin You (Music)," was nominated for best urban/alternative performance.

"Speechwriting was exciting and challenging work," says Wayna, who spent three years in the office of presidential letters and messages during the Clinton White House. "But a big piece of me was unfulfilled. I used to pass by the Kemp Mill music store [in Washington, D.C.], which became a daily reminder of what I really wanted to do. Finally, desire overwhelmed fear."

Taking the plunge in 2000, the Ethiopian-born, D.C.-raised Wayna began gigging in Georgetown every Friday night while working part-time to help raise funds for a recording budget. Through her indie label Quiet Power Productions, Wayna-which means wine of God-released her first album in 2005. "Moments of Clarity, Book 1" went on to sell 7000 units. That was followed in 2008 by "Higher Ground," whose fusion of classic soul and jazz includes Wayna's Grammy-nominated revamp of Minnie Riperton's 1975 No. 1 pop and No. 3 R&B hit "Lovin' You."

Wayna's version of the track features Kokayi, who laid down the beat box on the track and suggested the idea of augmenting the song with lyrics about the ups and downs of struggling to make it in the music industry. The song is also special to Wayna in another way. Friend and mentor Stevie Wonder, who became a fan of her work following a Los Angeles performance, produced the Riperton version.

"That song is a reminder to me to keep my head on straight, stay focused and know my true goals," says Wayna. "And having Stevie as a fan has helped me believe in myself more."

Having opened recently for fellow Grammy nominee Jazmine Sullivan and coming off performances at three inaugural balls, Wayna will perform tonight at a special Grammy send-off party at D.C.'s LIV venue. The evening's special guests include Jive artist and current Grammy nominee Raheem DeVaughn. From there she''ll hit the road for shows in New York and Texas.

"The Grammy nomination is incredible validation," says Wayna. "But the greatest validation for me is still the active listeners. Being able to touch an audience with my music is the sweetest award."

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