When the pandemic hit, Talisha Holmes was living in Nashville, far from family in Columbus, and even more deeply isolated by an autoimmune disorder that kept the singer to her apartment and away from the stages that had long served as both a stabilizing force and a needed emotional outlet.
“Some people were able to make it work, but I wasn’t, and I did suffer for it,” said Holmes, who moved back to Columbus in November following seven years in the Music City. “I can’t say I’ve fully bounced back, but I’m doing my darndest to try.”
While Holmes performed sparingly throughout the early years of the pandemic – limiting herself to the odd outdoor concert – she continued to write, songs diving inward to explore the heavy emotions that accompanied stay-at-home existence, but also outward, with the singer responding to the resurgent Black lives matter movement that rose up when Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd. “It was all so overwhelming, and a lot of times the only way I know to make peace with the things in my head is to write about them,” she said. “And there were a lot of things happening that I couldn’t make peace with.”
In the midst of the early COVID surge, Holmes even buckled down and recorded a searing version of her song “America,” which she first wrote in the weeks after police shot and killed Michael Brown in 2014.
“I went to elementary school in Galloway, Ohio, and when I was a kid, I knew 15 gazillion patriotic songs. I knew the preamble [to the Constitution]. I knew ‘The Pledge of Allegiance.’ I knew all of that stuff. It was something they drill into you: You’re patriotic, and you live and die for America,” Holmes said in 2020. “But I’m a Black woman, and it’s more likely going to be ‘die.’”
Holmes said she first awoke to the power inherent in songwriting when as a child she heard Stevie Wonder’s “Do Like You,” off his 1980 album Hotter Than July, drawn in by the casually unfolding narrative, which follows a young dancer as he prepares to compete in the school talent show. “You’re just waiting with bated breath for him to win this thing,” Holmes said. “And you’re so excited when he does. … I just have this deep, deep love for music and how those stories get me through this world, and how they hold me and connect me with it.”
Since returning to Columbus, Holmes has gradually begun to rebuild the sense of connection that had been eroded amid the coronavirus era. She’s also worked to repair her health, locating doctors that have helped her to manage a prolonged flare-up of her lupus and fibromyalgia. “I feel like I needed to get back here, and since I’ve been here, I’ve been getting my life under control, and I’ve been getting better,” Holmes said.
Amid this upswing, the musician has returned to the stage, drawing upon the pains and joys of recent years in cathartic performances that leave blood on the floor. Holmes traced her ability to vocally wring every drop of emotion from a song to middle and high school, when she participated in a therapeutic arts program through Franklin County Children’s Services. The program’s director regularly pushed Holmes to her limits, trying to get her to put more of herself into her delivery.
“And one day, he was picking on me and kind of getting my goat, and I was irritated, and he said, ‘Now use that,’” said Holmes, who will perform at Natalie’s Grandview on Sunday, May 7. “And I did. And I sang the song. And it was what I needed. I was an angry child, adolescent, teenager. I came from a broken home. And I needed that push to be able to make that connection between my voice and the music. And I feel like over the course of my life I’ve continued to make that connection between my voice and the music. … And now it comes from more than anger. It comes from everything, everywhere. It comes from love. It comes from power. It comes from irritation. It comes from sadness. It comes from anxiety. It comes from everything that I feel. If I can feel it, I can write it. And if I can write it and feel it, I can sing it.”