Connecticut’s new troubadour: ‘It’s a state I believe in’
MIDDLETOWN — Nekita Waller can trace her penchant for writing songs back to nursery school in Bloomfield.
Last week, the 10-year city resident was selected as Connecticut’s 17th state troubadour. She’ll begin her three-year tenure Aug. 1, succeeding Kate Callahan, who served from 2016-2018.
The individual chosen for the honorary position, established in 1991, is an ambassador of music and song, and fosters cultural literacy among Connecticut citizens, according to the Connecticut Office of the Arts. Duties include promoting the state in song.
Selection is based on the recommendation of a review panel.
Waller, a professional musician who has been performing around the state for decades, grew up surrounded by strains of song. Her mother recognized her talent in preschool, and nurtured her daughter’s growing interest as the years went on by entering her in singing competitions, she said.
Waller won many of them.
“Music has always been around me, always playing in the house, at my grandparents down south in Alabama. I have been singing since childhood. It was always just in me,” Waller said by email.
“The experience of singing in front of audiences and watching others perform helped me grow for sure over the years,” she said.
Waller graduated from Windsor High School and attended the University of Hartford.
Traditionally, the state position is held by a folk singer, but Waller “brings a new dimension to the position with a strong background in soul and pop,” Kristina Newman-Scott, executive director of the Connecticut Office of the Arts, said in a release.
Waller has “a fresh vision, authentic heart, and “Connecticut Anthem,” the tune she submitted to the troubadour selection panel, sends a “compelling message,” Newman-Scott added.
Waller wrote that song years ago.
“I have a lot of songs that I sometimes bring out and perform, but have never recorded in a studio or as a single,” Waller said.
When Waller learned she had been honored with the post, her father was in the hospital. Choosing “Connecticut Anthem,” which draws upon her memories of growing up in the state, was an effort to honor her dad.
“I went to visit my friend, producer Vic Steffens at Horizon Studio in New Haven, and recorded it three days after my father passed away in March of this year. It was a late and long evening full of long pauses and emotional moments to take in when I recorded it. But we got through it,” Waller said.
She’s written another biographical tune: “Best Shot.”
“It’s about having a lot of doors close on you, and how the power of a few people believing in you and believing in yourself will keep you moving and get you there,” Waller said.
The musician also was brought up in a family that encouraged community volunteerism, and often visits nursing homes and schools to perform.
“My parents have given me so much, and it was instilled in me to give back. Having the troubadour position adds a bigger dimension to it,” Waller said. “In the past, when I have gone to schools, I just went in and entertained them for a hour. I wasn’t really in a position to tell them my story,” she said.
Waller’s musical talents have been acclaimed widely. She won a statewide talent contest as a teen and had her stage debut at the Apollo Theater before Steve Harvey. She has also won several singing awards, including 2015’s Northwest Idol in Torrington, which garnered her a $1,000 prize.
Since she’s been appointed, Waller feels more comfortable sharing her background with audiences, especially children. “I want kids to know that maybe what they think is impossible is not impossible,” she said.
Music is not only an easy means of communication for the artist, but provides “a place of refuge and peace for me,” she said. It’s also when Waller feels most connected to others.
Most recently, Waller has focused on recording her work, and attending special events, weddings and summer concerts, including Middletown’s Summer Sounds series. She has also performed at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, the Connecticut Science Center, New Britain Museum of American Art and the Riverfront Food Truck Festival in Hartford.
This August, fans can check out her talent at summer concerts in Torrington, Bloomfield and Windsor.
“These shows are so much fun. It’s a chance to play in front of large audiences, many who have never heard me sing before,” Waller said. “They have made a choice to spend their summer evening with their friends and family on a blanket listening to me. It’s pretty amazing and I’m so grateful,” she added.
Waller works with a number of different musicians during her appearances. She has also sung the National Anthem for several events, including the Celtics in Boston, UConn Huskies, the WNBA, and different veterans events, she said.
Since the announcement of her appointment, Waller has gotten a lot of positive feedback on “Connecticut Anthem.”
The tune is a catchy trip down memory lane for those who grew up in the Nutmeg State. It references G. Fox, Sage Allen, the carousel at Bushnell Park, Hartford Civic Center and more.
“I think it totally evokes pride for people. They say how they remember some of the same things I sing about in the song,” she said.
Waller acknowledges Connecticut often gets a bad rap — and she’s intent on focusing on its countless strengths, as well as acknowledging some of its characteristics that aren’t universally enjoyed.
“You can love it or leave it, but it’s a state I believe in …” goes one line. Another, “snow in the springtime for no good reason,” is a reference to the state’s fickle weather.
“That’s the reality of who we are along with some very great things. If it’s truly your home, you have to take it all in,” Waller said.
“Connecticut is life. Things come and go, there’s sunny days and there’s snow days. Things and evolve and change, but your heart stays true to it all along the way,” she added.
Visit Waller’s website at nekitawaller.com.