The list of artists who have covered Ain't no Sunshine is "peerless". Considering the choices, the 20 million views of 12-year-old Jo Meira Strogatz's video is impressive. It must be a bit of a novelty version, one would think. How can a twelve-year-old do justice to Ain't no Sunshine? It's a song of heartache and hard-won experience, after all.
Meira’s (aka Canen) version of Ain't no Sunshine, below, is no gimmick. The band is good; their credits include playing with Johnny Dowd, Neko Case, Spoon, Bill Frisell & Queen Latifah. And young Canen (as she called herself on YouTube) sings soul and blues with with a tone and phrasing that suggest a far more experienced singer. She really nails the song!
Meira, as she now calls herself, was eleven when she first posted videos on YouTube. Nothing fancy, just old jazz and blues songs recorded in a studio with professional musicians. It was facilitated by her voice teacher, guitarist Anna Coogan, who was so impressed by her pupil that she set up a session with musician friends. Meira is a natural. A voice. She doesn't over-elaborate, she just stands and sings. You know she's a child, but she sounds like a classic jazz singer from the 1940s.
The band kept coming back and Meira kept recording. When she was twelve, it all blew up with her cover of Ain't No Sunshine. In the video, she makes it look easy. She's too young for the world weary lyrics, but she evokes Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. Radio Stations took notice and, at the age of 14, Meira opened for Todd Rudgren at the Syracuse Jazz Festival.
Jo Meira Strogatz is now a sophomore at College in Boston MA. She continues to release music as Meira on her popular YouTube channel but there is more original music and it's nearly a decade since she recorded the cover that put her on Channel 9 News. As Meira notes on her Youtube:
"Jo has grown since then—in both skill and in height, and is now writing and releasing her own music. Still only a sophomore in college, Jo explores her passion for music both inside and outside the academic space, as a full-time student and independent artist. She can't wait to share her music with the world and continue to grow as a creative".
Meira has released three singles of he own songs and she's started performing her songs live. Her latest track, Something Higher, which touches on climate change, is definitely worth a listen. It is well produced, the video is good, and it sounds contemporary. Meira comes across like an established artist; one thinks of Phoebe Bridges. Here it is.
It's not every twelve-year-old that gets to record classic songs in a real studio with more than decent musicians. What makes it even more special is Meira's lack of pretention. Regardless of what happens, and despite her age at the time, Canen/Meira's cover of Ain't no Sunshine is now the favourite version of many listeners. It's all comes down to her voice and the fact that she refrained from showy vocal flourishes. She has a great ear, excellent timing and a lovely tone. She sings it straight – and, importantly, she doesn't come across as precocious! It's astonishing really.
The way Meira sounds, it doesn't matter that she couldn't possibly be singing from experience. She's relaxed and she doesn't try to go into character, yet she doesn't sound young. It's a quality of her voice. Genetics. One listens for moments where her age comes through, where the song becomes a novelty (a precocious child mugging it up as an adult), but they're not there. It sounds right and it's full of soul. The musicians are quality, the singer is gifted, and the song wins out. End of story. One is reminded that you don't need to be a pirate to sing a sea shanty!