In the weeks before the Funk Parade, we’ve been showcasing some of our favorite groups. For our final Funk feature, we are turning the spotlight on the multi-talented Dior Ashley Brown.
While the folks in the audience at the Funk Parade this weekend will see Dior’s musical side, she wants us to know about her many sides: “I’m an Emcee, I’m an actor, I’m a poet, I’m a host. I don’t want anyone to categorize me. I submerge myself in the arts.” Dior has a long history in theater, she writes plays and poetry, and she is the founder of the DC Music Summit, a day-long conference for D.C.-area musicians, with panels, workshops, and resources to help them develop their skills as performers and entrepreneurs.
From D.C. to the World Outside and Back Again
Dior was born in Laurel, Md. and started writing poetry and singing at age five. She attended St. Augustine, a historic African American church and school at 14th and V in northwest Washington. She remembers singing “Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot” in church and being told that she sang like an adult. “This encouraged me, but scared me too,” she explained. She was not used to being center stage at this point.
Dior has traveled to and from D.C. for her entire life. Her father was in the military and so the family moved frequently. They spent time in Germany, where her father was stationed. Locals, sensing her flair for entertaining as a toddler, called her a schauspieler, which translates to “show player.” The family also lived in the Western U.S. for a time.
Overseas and in the West, Dior had lived in predominantly white and Hispanic areas, so returning to the District was a revelation. After often feeling like a minority everywhere else, she was now able to immerse herself deeply in Black art and culture.
A Family Affair in the Arts
Dior’s family nurtured her interest in the arts. When her father was younger, he sang in his own band, and he continued to perform while serving the military. He now sings in his church choir. He helped inspire Dior’s love of music.
Meanwhile, her uncle, James Tokley, was the Poet Laureate of Tampa, Florida. Even when reading his words on the page, the poems came to life for her and inspired another side of her.
The Beginning of a Life on Stage
When Dior first moved back to D.C., she attended Calvin Coolidge High School for a year, where she was one of only three theater students. To develop her skills in the theater arts, Dior’s mother encouraged her to apply to Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and one of her teachers at Coolidge helped her to learn Juliet’s monologue from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Dior performed that part for her successful audition to Ellington.
“My theater studies helped me to become aware on stage,” Dior explained, “and taught me how to project my voice. Then, hip hop gave me context to communicate. It saved my life.” Dior was a rebellious kid at times, but the arts helped to ground her.
Funk Parade, Rain or Shine
Dior first performed at the Funk Parade in 2017, and it was a bumpy introduction. It rained for much of the day and her performance was delayed because the generator was broken. When she started performing, the audience was small. But, her voice and her band ended up drawing a crowd.
When she returned in 2018, she performed on U Street at the Duke Ellington Stage and the crowds were big and enthusiastic.
At this year’s Funk Parade, she will perform at Marvin starting at 8pm.
Dior has been working on collaborations with a variety of artists, including Bennu Byrd, Jenna Camille, Iza Flo Band, and Backbeat Underground. She also plans on releasing her album, Uptown Ashley Brown, in the fall. And, she will host another DC Music Summit later this year.
Dior draws her musical inspiration from a wide variety of genres and artists — “When I was young, I wanted to be Whitney Houston,” she said. Here is a playlist showing her musical journey. Listen on YouTube.
- Whitney Houston: I’m Your Baby Tonight
- Queen Latifah: Fly Girl
- Lauryn Hill: Sweetest Thing
- Queen Latifah: Just Another Day
- Nas: The Message
- Fugees: How Many Mics
- OutKast: Elevators (Me & You)
- Lil’ Kim: Queen B@#$H
- OutKast: So Fresh, So Clean
- Bun B: Get Throwed
- Lil’ Kim: Drugs
- Nas: Life’s a Bitch
- Lauryn Hill: Lost Ones
- Dior Ashley Brown: Vernacular
Check out our previous profiles of some of our other favorite groups performing at the upcoming Funk Festival: