Simone Green and Her Far From ‘Ordinary’ Musical Journey

Photo by Evan Marcus Imagery

Simone Green was born to sing.

By nine, she already knew music would always be a part of her life. Her epiphany came in the pews of a Baptist church in Arkansas. It’s a familiar yet fascinating story that many vocalists share. 

But here’s where Green’s musical journey diverges. While she established herself as a critically-acclaimed soul singer, songwriter and producer, brick by brick, song by song, Green became one of this town’s most successful legal staffing executives. 

While most of us struggle to stay the course in one endeavor, she’s doing it in two and doing it well. 

The Defender interviewed this gifted hyphenate, who speaks with a velvety, radio-ready telephone voice, about growing up in Little Rock, attending college in Iowa and building a life right here in Chicago. 

It’s a journey that’s uniquely her own, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chicago Defender: So I was reading in your bio that you were from Little Rock, Arkansas. Is that correct? 

Simone Green: That is correct. Yep. Born and raised.  

CD: What was it like growing up in Little Rock?

Simone Green: We lived in a community where we knew pretty much everyone on our street and a couple of streets over. And all of the kids would get together and play kickball in a circle. And we had a softball team. And you could literally go outside by yourself in the morning, be gone all day and just be home by the time the street lights came on. 

It was just such a fantastic childhood. You could go as far as you could walk or ride your bike. And you know, you had rules. But we were mature enough to follow those rules most of the time, and make it back home safely. I have some great memories from my life in Little Rock, and I’m still really close to my childhood friends to this day.

CD: When you were coming up, when did music start becoming a part of your equation as a hobby you were doing? 

Simone Green: I honestly think I was born to sing. But all of my first memories of life are of me singing in the car. Every song that came on the radio, I would sing. And it’s funny, I still do that to this day. It’s a little bit annoying to some people. (Chuckles). Because they want to hear the artists, but they’re going to hear me too most of the time. 

But the one pivotal moment that I remember was I had gone to church with my cousins and my aunt. And it was Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Arkansas. 

And my aunts are sisters, and it’s a lot of them. And they had a singing group called the Pettus sisters. And they used to sing at church all the time. But my cousin, one of my aunt’s daughters, sang a Clark Sisters song. And I just remember having a physical experience to that. And she sounded good. And at that moment, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

CD: Those moments where you have those epiphanies can be indescribable. I know you said you had a physical reaction. Do you remember exactly how that reaction hit you?

Simone Green: I remember standing up as a little girl. I’m very spiritual, but I’m not, you know, religious, so much in the sense that I went to church all of the time. But this particular day, I literally remember standing up, because it just moved me in that way. In a spiritual way. And also in a way that this is an epiphany. This is what I want to do. No doubt in my mind. And I have been pursuing it ever since. 

CD: You said you were singing songs in the car as well.  Was there one particular song that you would always sing in the car?

Simone Green: You know, I won’t say there’s not a particular song. But any Prince or Michael Jackson. At the time, as a little girl, I was all over that. I liked them both equally earlier on. And I remember making a scrapbook, like literally taking a school folder with the three prongs and some notebook paper and cutting out pictures of them. And half of it was Prince and half of it was Michael Jackson. I’ve been a fan of both of them for a really long time. Maybe Patti LaBelle too. When I was a younger girl, I loved the power in her voice. And I always sang a lot of Patti songs too.

CD: Who’s better Michael, a prince?

Simone Green: Oh, Prince. Hands down, he is my number one favorite artist. Aretha is a very close second. That girl, whew! Lord have mercy.

It’s my season right now. And I plan to take full advantage…

CD: So what was also interesting is that you ended up at the University of Iowa and majored in sociology? 

Simone Green: So my voyage or introduction rather to Iowa, is also a story. When I was a senior in high school, they had all of these college reps come from across the state and across the country, as well. And all I had to do was sign up. 

And quite honestly, I wasn’t interested in a lot of schools. It was just a way for me to get out of class, so I would sign up, I signed up for this one, and they had a rep from Iowa. And she’s just like, ‘If you fill out the application, we’ll waive the housing fee and application fee, if you fill it out right now.’ 

I said, ‘I have nothing to lose.’ I filled it out. And I swear, within a couple of weeks I received a letter saying I was accepted. And then maybe another week or two after that, they said that I qualified for this scholarship and my tuition would be paid for. I was like, they’re giving me all this money. Boom, that’s where I’m going. I just showed up in August of the following year. And that’s how I got there. It was weird because it was like two days before I saw another black person.

It was just a culture shock a little bit. So, I questioned my decision, but truly it was one of the best choices I ever made. And being in Iowa, most of the Black people are from Chicago or the Chicago metropolitan area.  

I made lifelong friends that were from Chicago, and I was singing with a band in college. And as luck would have it, my side hustle was doing hair. I was doing this girl’s hair who was a law student. She knew I sang, and she passed my music on to her cousin who happened to be Maurice Joshua — Grammy Award winning artist, producer Maurice Joshua. And that’s how I ended up in Chicago, to come do some work for him when he was trying to get a publishing deal, and that was 26 years ago.

CD: So you take this journey to Chicago, right? You’re getting a glimpse of the music scene there. What was it like then? And has it changed much in your opinion?

Simone Green: Yeah. It has changed a lot, just from my vantage view. When I moved here, I really didn’t know any other singers or  musicians for many, many years. I knew of just a handful. And there were places where you could perform.

We had a band called Soul Sanctuary very briefly when I first moved here. We sang at Isaac Hayes’s club on the north side. There was a place in the South Loop like the Cotton Club. You could go and hear music. It’s just different just because times are different. And the way you promote and market yourself is different.

I felt it was much more challenging for me to get my foot in the door. When I didn’t really have anything to show for it. I knew I could sing. But no one else knew that. They didn’t know anything about me because I was from somewhere else. But now with social media, you can put yourself out there and promote and market yourself and get noticed that way, which is kind of what I did. And it has really worked well for me. I promote almost all my shows.   

CD: There’s this belief from back in the 90s and early 2000s. It said that if you were a musician in Chicago, you had to move to New York or Los Angeles because there were more opportunities there. Is that still true? And if so, what made you decide to stay in Chicago?

Simone Green: I think you just get so much more exposure to a variety of people who are in hiring making positions in New York and LA. But I stayed in Chicago for many reasons. I was dating a guy at the time. And we were based here. Now I’m very happily married, so I’m not going anywhere unless I take my husband with me. But I have a career. In addition to being a singer, I’m director of a legal staffing company [CLS Legal Staffing]. And I have been with this company for 26 years. I’ve built a relatively successful division within the company. And it’s important to me. I enjoy the work that I do. 

CD: It seems like it’s a gift to be an artist and nurture this flourishing artistic career. But then to maintain a flourishing professional career alongside that, how do you manage?

Simone Green: It is a challenge. It requires me to be extremely organized. And I’m not 100%, but I’m pretty damn good at making sure that I have all my ducks in a row. Because I have to manage my household. I have to manage my job, and I have subordinates and just being accountable for that. 

But I manage myself on the singing part. I book my own gigs. I write my own contracts, I hire my own musicians, I have my own sound setup. I have to make sure that I know what’s going on, where to be, what time and how to do it every day. So staying organized is a skill of mine. And that has helped me tremendously to keep it all afloat.

CD: “East of Ordinary” EP. That was a project that you released last year. Can you talk about it and any plans of dropping a full length project soon?

Simone Green: Absolutely. I am happy to say that, as of a couple of days ago, I just found out that one of my singles on that EP, “We Could Be,” the piano mix version, is number one on the global independent digital radio charts. It’s literally number one in the world for digital radio, specifically for independent artists. 

CD: Wow, that’s cool!

Simone Green: But then it’s number 61 globally on digital radio for everyone. With Miley Cyrus, and Drake, and all down the list. It’s number 61, and I’m so proud of that!

CD: When did you find out?

Simone Green: I found out two days ago, literally two days ago. 

CD: That’s so cool. 

Simone Green: But yeah, it’s been doing well, the single for sure. It still has legs. I’m planning to do a remix of the house song that’s on there. I wrote three remixes. Just trying to put the final one together and maybe have that out before the summer is over. 

But I have been in the studio with my team, and we have recorded two new songs. And hopefully, we’ll have a few more to add to that before the end of the year. 

I don’t know if we’ll get the new project out this year, but certainly by the beginning of next year. And it will be a full length album. Excited about that. But yeah, “East of Ordinary” is available on all major streaming platforms. And hopefully people will continue to purchase it and check it out.

CD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Simone Green: I’m just excited about my musical future. And I think it’s my season right now. And I plan to take full advantage of it and enjoy the ride.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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