KENTVILLE - Most people know Tina Cleveland as the friendly grocery store cashier eagerly chatting with every single customer she rings through.
But there’s more to Cleveland than what meets the eye in the checkout line at Jason’s Your Independent Grocer in Kentville. And her little secret promises to be music to your ears.
The self-taught singer wowed crowds with her raw and raspy vocals at the recent multicultural fair and classic car show events held in downtown Kentville. It was her first time performing in front of what she describes as her “hometown crowd.”
“It’s like my hidden secret,” the lively 30-year-old joked. “Tina’s a singer!”
She first picked up a microphone to compete in contests held in the Annapolis Valley seven years ago, and even earned some radio time after winning the Battle of the Bands competition at Upper Clements Park.
But her recent gigs in Kentville felt different.
Cleveland’s face glowed as she waved to familiar faces in the crowd at Centre Square, shared some shout outs and pointed to her regulars from the grocery store while belting out tunes made popular by musical legends by the likes of Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin and Etta James. She fondly recalls her voice stopping store regulars in their tracks, and bringing tears to the eyes of her Grade 4 French teacher.
“The energy that I receive is why I sing. The feeling of being able to lose yourself in your own moment, and to awe another, is overwhelming,” she said, noting that she’s spent that last 11 years working in Kentville.
“I know everybody, and that comes from working in this town. That is such a great feeling.”
Cleveland stacks her set-lists with songs about overcoming adversity, something she can relate to.
“No matter what you do, sing truth and always sing from the soul – or you’ll lose the story you’re trying to tell. Every song that I’ve ever covered I have sang like it was always my own,” she said.
“I dealt with a lot of turmoil and emotion when I was a girl, and I think that’s what I really went to, was music.”
She’s learned from her past, and attributes her distinctive gift of gab to a genuine desire to make people feel appreciated.
“I believe that we have bridges to walk and, if you burn them, you will have nowhere to go, and… I set out to be nice because I want that back.”
Cleveland admires artists who, like her, use music as a release. She sings the songs of legends, happily sharing their legacies with captivated crowds.
“They took their hurt and they turned it into something good,” she said, citing Joplin’s Me & Bobby McGee as her favourite song to perform.
She admits she still gets nauseous with stage fright before a performance, but adds that she’s been fortunate to have friends like Johanna Morton to push her to share her talent.
“I want to thank my friends for always being there,” she said, her chipper demeanor momentarily shifting as her voice cracks.
“Johanna’s never missed an event.”
Cleveland plans to write some more of her own songs and brush up on her guitar skills in hopes of eventually renting studio space to do some recordings.
“I really feel that that’s my true calling in life,” she said.
No matter where life will lead, Cleveland vows that music will be a constant.
“I can’t stay away from the music. I will always go back.”