When she’s not on stage, Uvee Hayes has the most unassuming presence. She spends much more time listening than talking, Her speaking voice barely registers above a whisper. What gives her away as a performer is her eyes. She gives her undivided attention and engages in a manner that forms a deep connection.
Discussing her career in music – and contributions to the rich legacy of St. Louis blues – make her piercing eyes dance and smile.
“Music has been in me for a long, long time,” Hayes said. “Even when I was a little girl watching TV – watching James Brown – I knew it was something that I wanted to do. Even with my education and my career, it was always there. I would never leave it, even if I could only do it part-time.”
Her life shifted when she retired from her career as a school psychologist in 2010. She pursues music full-time, though she continues to do part-time work in the field out of a love for children.
“After retirement I got even more into the music,” Hayes said. “I enjoy that.”
The past six months have been a whirlwind: a national tour and a local performance on the bill with blues legend Bobby Rush when he came to St. Louis in May and a trip to the East Coast in June. At the end of September, she’ll set sail as a featured performer on the European Blues Cruise – which stops in France, Italy and Spain.
She was thrilled with how far the music had taken her, but over the moon about performing before a hometown crowd in her native of Macon, Mississippi.
“I can’t wait,” Hayes said. “There are so many family members and friends who have been asking, ‘When are you coming for us to see you?’”
At the top of her agenda as far as her hometown set list is her latest single “Basement Party.” A song that was made for line dancing, Hayes recorded a music video for “Basement Party,” where she twirls along with the dancers who bop to the song.
It was in Macon that Hayes was “born and reared with the blues – from a little girl on up.”
“My mom had a little country store and they would have Friday and Saturday night gatherings, and people would come from everywhere,” Hayes said. “You could hear nothing but the blues and the stomping on the floor – you’ve heard about how people can dance the dust up off the floor? That’s what would happen.”
Watching her mother’s store turn into a temporary juke joint on the weekends fueled her love of the blues. A 9th grade talent show sealed the deal as far as her desire to become an entertainer. Now she is finally fully devoting herself to the music at an almost manic pace.
As she discussed what was new and next regarding her musical journey in her husband Bernie Hayes’s office in The Wolff Jazz Institute & Art Gallery on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University, Bernie couldn’t help but chime in once or twice.
“Her last album was a jazz album, and before that was a soul album – and now she has a blues album,” Bernie said. “She has three albums on the market right now in three different genres.”
Proving her words that he is her biggest supporter, Bernie showed off her CDs.
“I can do a little bit jazz, and a little bit of soul, but I love the blues,” Uvee Hayes said. “Blues is what I love to listen to, but soul is me when it comes to singing.”
When she first started recording, she did it on 45 wax records.
“Oh my, that was back in 1972,” she recalled. “I did a record called ‘Testify’ with the late Oliver Sain. Can you believe it’s been that long?”
She then went on to give shout outs to the many producers and songwriters she has worked with from around the country over the years, such as the late Luther Ingram, who gained acclaim as a performer with his hit slow jam “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right).” She also worked with Tom Tom Washington, the late Otis Clay and many others who have produced music for her that has stretched across genres.
“I don’t want to be in a box,” Uvee Hayes said. “I love music. And most of the time, if I hear it and I love it, I’ll just do it. If I feel like I have the voice I will just do it.”
She is fearless when it comes to keeping her career going – and being a woman of a certain age embarking on an industry stereotypically associated with youth.
“There is something within you that says, ‘Come on now, you’ve got to do this,’” Uvee Hayes said. “It’s something that just won’t go away. Plus, I enjoy my audience. Jazz, R&B, the blues – they love it all. And if you are with me, you are going to have a good time.”
When asked to describe herself as an artist, she asked for Bernie to give his thoughts.
“One word,” he said. “Versatile.”