Southern Soul

Southern Soul

Londoner Izo Fitzroy found her groove in The South

Words by Erwin X. Davis

Photos by Kenny McCracken

The lights go down at a music hall in north London. It’s Friday night and a congregation of listeners bounce from wall to wall with anticipation. Behind the velvet curtains, in the wings, is Izo Fitzroy, giving final hugs and I love you’s to her backup harmonizers. A spotlight ignites her landing zone on stage: a single seat behind a Steinway grand.

When we find ourselves—truly discover who we are—there is a bit of agony in the knowledge that we were never lost. That we were never anywhere other than where we were destined to be because of who we’ve always been. Growing up, the seeds of who Izo Fitzroy was destined to be were planted in the right gardens.

“I always loved singing and piano, but I had a lot of deviation. Odd jobs, things of the sort—I hated all of them,” she says.

The music was just a hobby, a hobby that was cultivated and nurtured into a passion while singing in a U.K. gospel choir. However, in 2014, Fitzroy came to New Orleans in search of something else.

“I spent eight months in New Orleans,” she explains. “I call it my musical sabbatical. I remember coming back with a sense of knowing where I was and where I wanted to be.” It was in Louisiana that she met Carol Hester.

“The most amazing woman,” Fitzroy says, referring to her maternal figure while in NOLA. Hester, a zookeeper in the city at the time, agreed to put Fitzroy up for a year—free of charge—on a single condition.

“I had to walk her dog, Percival, every day,” she laughs. “It was that genuine Southern hospitality that I felt the most while there. Being in a city where you don’t know anyone, being part of a proper Southern community and that sense of welcome, it meant the world.”

Back in London, the audience reaches a fever pitch at the omen. Fitzroy closes her eyes under the heavenly blue lights of backstage. Her synapses are ascending in this moment of thought, to a realm of rhythmic expression and deliver a musical sermon as only she can.

Her lyrics dance with melodic hymnals, riding on a star-shattering voice that moves souls, worldwide. With credit to influences such as Motown, Brazilian music, and Italian scoring from the sixties and seventies, it may come as no surprise that Fitzroy comes from a place of deep emotion when performing.

“I connect back to the feelings I felt when I was writing those stories—to bring them to life.”

She’s not alone. Traditional to the core of her sound, she is backed by a host of voices from the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir ensemble. Together—and having sung together for two decades—the blending of their smooth harmonies intertwine the lyrics and forceful emotion of Fitzroy’s singing into a masterpiece. “Those voices mean a lot to me. Those people mean so much to me,” she says.

Audiences appear to agree. Fitzroy’s 2017 debut album “Skyline” was met with wide success and houses the song Day by Day, currently sitting at two million plays on Spotify alone. A desire from ears across the globe for the soul-stirring chords of Southern sonatas can be inferred.

For Fitzroy, a native Londoner living forty-five thousand miles east of the Mississippi, it’s the South’s deep sense of communal love, joy, and kindheartedness that offers an appeal. She’s a Southern soul, born across the pond. This connection and authentic love for new and potentially lost souls drapes over her music, laced in this feeling of universal companionship. To the tune of nearly half a million monthly listeners on Spotify, she sings of times made better, heartbreaks embraced, challenges kicked over, and tranquility realized.

“Heartbreak—and moments like that, when I was in them—was devastating then,” she says, speaking on the value of an aged understanding of emotional pain. “Now I view it as a heart opening, revealing extra layers of one’s self, a gateway to opening more levels. Now I invite it in.”

Backstage, she escapes the looming performance, just for a moment, and traverses the experiences, heartbreaks, joys, and moments that bring the passion in her songs into the ether. From the outside, she appears in an otherworldly state of spacial occupation, existing only as a vessel of thoughts and recollections draped in peaceful humanity. The roar of the audience calls her back to this plane as she opens her eyes with a focused gentleness.

Even in the U.K., she says the audience’s acceptance of her style attributes to her decision to hold steady and resist the promises and hoopla of the pop star route so many take in today’s industry.

“Unconsciously, I’ve just stuck to what I know. It would feel off for me to just deviate.” She goes on, “I feel like I’m at a point in my career and life where I feel 100 percent committed to spreading the kind of joy of gospel in my music. The participation and reactions help me realize that I’ve got longevity. Whether it’s the music or gospel influence, I feel like I’ve found my groove.”

With a final breath of gratitude, she brings her chin high with a sophistication found only in those who sing for the soul.

Izo’s latest album “A Good Woman” released in April, 2023.