A powerful vocalist and songwriter whose music combines elements of blues, jazz, rock, R&B, and gospel, Danielia Cotton was born on September 24, 1967. Cotton's mother, Wenonah Brooks, was a jazz singer, as were two of her aunts, Jeannie Brooks and Carol Brooks-Meyners. Cotton's father was not a presence in her life, and she grew up in the small town of Hopewell, New Jersey, where she was one of only seven African-American students at Hopewell Valley Central High School. At the age of 12, Cotton began playing guitar, and she joined her mother and aunts in a gospel vocal group called the Brooks Ensemble Plus. At home, Cotton absorbed her mother's love for jazz and gospel, while at school she picked up an appreciation for hard rock bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest, and she'd later discover black rockers like Lenny Kravitz and Living Colour. Cotton would go on to attend the New Jersey School of Performing Arts, and after graduating, she earned a full scholarship to study music at Vermont's Bennington College. Cotton would also study at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and she credits her study of acting as making her a stronger singer.
After completing her studies, Cotton settled in New York City, where she began making a name for herself on the city's club scene. In 2004, Cotton released her first recording, a six-song EP for Hip Shake Records. Cotton became friendly with Kevin Salem, a producer and multi-instrumentalist who'd worked with Marc Anthony Thompson's project Chocolate Genius, and Salem produced her first full-length album, 2005's Small White Town (the title referring to her childhood in Hopewell). When Philadelphia's WXPN-FM declared Cotton was an artist to watch, she discovered she had a growing fan following in Philly, and left New York to move there. After Small White Town ran its course, Cotton cut ties with Hip Shake Records and she released 2008's Rare Child on her own Cotton Town label. An EP recorded live in concert, Live Child, followed in 2009. Cotton reunited in the studio with Kevin Salem to record 2012's The Gun in Your Hand. In 2014, Cotton introduced an album of tunes made famous by other artists, The Real Book, with the song selection ranging from the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" to Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." That same year saw the release of Woodstock, a six-song EP recorded live in a studio in Woodstock, New York, the town Cotton now called home. In the spring of 2016, Cotton released a pair of digital singles, "A Prayer" and "Afraid to Burn." ~ Mark Deming