Meet the Artist – Ayanna Witter-Johnson, cellist & vocalist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My career in music has been an organic process of embracing a variety of opportunities that have unfolded as a result of my training as a multi-instrumentalist/ composer and following my intuition. The turning point in pursuing my musical career in particular happened during my years studying composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where I met a wide range of musicians and had several professional opportunities that opened the door to a continuous flow of experiences to date.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My Mum (who decided I should start piano lessons at 4 years old), Sweet Honey In The Rock, David Smith (my principal piano teacher), Sue Sutherly & David Kennedy (my cello teachers), Stevie Wonder, Trinity Laban, Bach, Courtney Pine, Nitin Sawhney and Anoushka Shankar.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Moments of my own self-imposed limited thinking.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My debut album Road Runner

Which particular works do you think you perform best?


How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Every show is unique. I consider the venue, audience, music I have in my repertoire, whether it’s a solo or band show and then shape the performance accordingly.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

King’s Place, London. It’s a beautiful venue in my hometown with great sound, two versatile rooms that are able to accommodate the range of my musical styles and the capacity is just right for me (intimate but big enough). I’ve had so many incredible pivotal performances there across my career and memories to last a lifetime.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing my song ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC, becoming the only non-American to win an entire season of Amateur Night Live.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A stream of exciting musical opportunities that facilitate artistic growth and truly enjoying the music you’re creating and sharing.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

  • Hearing your own inner voice, following your intuition as an artist.
  • Creative discipline – having a practice to enable development and excellence.
  • Recording your output so you can reflect and move forward with confidence.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In 10 years time, I see myself engaging in a portfolio of amazing creative experiences including:

  • Creating an extraordinary multi-disciplinary live show and touring the world with
    my band, dancers and crew.
  • Composing music for theatre, dance and film.
  • Running a record label that supports release of music by other artists as well as
    my own.
  • Curating several music festivals worldwide.
  • Collaborating with some of my musical heroes including Sting, Anita Baker,
    Erykah Badu, Bjork and Take Six.
  • Composing for and performing with several orchestras including the London
    Symphony Orchestra, Chineke!, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Metropole Orkest

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Internal and external peace and fulfilment in all aspects of life in the present moment.

What is your most treasured possession?

Reuben, my cello.

What is your present state of mind?


Singer, songwriter, cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a rare exception to the rule that classical and alternative r&b music cannot successfully coexist.

Graduating with a first from both Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music, Ayanna was a participant in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme and become an Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre. She was a featured artist with Courtney Pine’s Afropeans: Jazz Warriors and became the only non-American to win Amateur Night Live at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NYC.

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