After a four-year hiatus, Tori Kelly is on the road, this time with her solo Take Control Tour, which includes a stop on Sept. 18 at Lincoln Hall.
The 30-year-old first gained popularity on YouTube, where she posted song covers as a teenager. Her voice, warm and bright, was always complimented by her skillful strumming of an acoustic guitar.
Since then, her fanbase has grown and her musical style has evolved to combine elements of gospel, pop, R&B, and afro beats.
And after a life-threatening health scare with blood clots earlier this summer, the singer-songwriter feels “more grateful” about how far she’s come, and she’s ready to spend some quality time with her fans.
“I can’t even really put it into words how excited I am,” she told the Sun-Times in an interview. “I’ve been just waiting to get back on the road for so long.”
An Evening with Tori Kelly
When: 8:30 p.m. Sept. 18
Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
While on tour, she’ll perform songs from her latest EP, “tori.” The deluxe version drops three days before her show at Lincoln Hall and will include live versions of “shelter,” “alive if i die,” and “missin u.”
It’s Kelly’s first tour since before the COVID-19 pandemic, when she went on an all-acoustic trek following the release of her album “Inspired by True Events” in 2019.
“I think performing live is such a huge part about what I do,” she said. “I just wanted to give fans a little bit more and put those versions on it, put the EP back out, and still continue just to put out music. There’s a lot more coming, so it’s exciting.”
Reminiscing about a performance at the same Lincoln Park venue early on in her career, Kelly admits she has a soft spot for Chicago.
“Another cool thing is to come back to such an intimate venue and put on just a really special show for my fans,” she said.
Growing up with her musician father, Allwyn Kelly, Tori listened to a variety of music. She’s found inspiration, she says, in a variety of artists and genres, from India.Arie and Maxwell’s neo-soul beats to the hard, bluesy rock of Led Zeppelin and Lenny Kravitz.
“I’ve always loved just so many different things, and maybe it’s given me a little more confidence to just try whatever,” she said.
At just 12 years old, the singer was signed to a record label. But that deal fell apart after they seemed to not know what to do with the young artist.
YouTube became her way of removing the “barrier” that existed between her music and her fans. She wanted to engage with them directly, and soon enough a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You,” with beatboxer Angie Girl, went viral. And on the ninth season of “American Idol,” the then 16-year-old shot to fame after covering John Mayer’s “Gravity.”
Along with a new look (she recently ditched her golden locks), Kelly is primed for a new era in her musicmaking.
“Right before I turned 30, I had all this new music I was sitting on, I was like, ‘you know, this music kind of feels like I’m going back to my roots,’” she said. “I feel kind of in touch with my childhood self who had this big dream to be a singer.”
Now, working with producer and songwriter Jon Bellion, she’s had the opportunity to fantasize about and relive Y2K as an adult, through her music. She wanted her new sound to feel “fresh and new” while still holding onto the nostalgia of the ’90s and early 2000s.
Kelly said it has been all about taking the best parts of that period in time, especially the grunge-chic fashion trends, chunky jewelry and stylish hairstyles.
Another huge source of inspiration is her family, she says. Her mom is German and Irish, and her dad is Jamaican and Puerto Rican. She describes her family as a “beautiful blend of cultures.”
Now, Kelly says, she’d like to try tapping into her Puerto Rican roots.
“My grandma, still to this day is like, ‘you got to do a song in Spanish,’” she said. “Some kind of Spanish record would be really fun to tap into … [and] make grandma proud.”