Michelle Willis (Canadian Musician)
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Michelle Willis is a British born, Canadian-raised singer, songwriter and keyboard player.
Her music has been defined as soulful, jazz folk, featuring stacks of vocal and keyboard harmony, straight-to-your-heart lyrics, and a band comprised of Canada's leading musicians including Hugh Marsh, Robert Piltch, Charles James, Thom Gill, Phillipe Melanson, and many others.
Prior to launching a solo career, Michelle amassed an impressive résumé through a variety of collaborations and work as a session keyboardist and background singer in Toronto, some of whom include Parachute Club, Royal Wood, Peter Katz, Stuart Mclean & The Vinyl Cafe, Zac Brown Band, Jake Wilkinson, Hawksley Workman, Hugh Marsh, The Henrys, Nikki Yanofsky and others.
Born into a musical family, Michelle was raised singing and playing at home, school and the All Saints' Kingsway Choir. She studied voice and musical theatre at Etobicoke School of the Arts, and later studied piano at Toronto's Humber College Jazz program. Following her graduation, Willis released the EP Shining Bits & Pieces (2010) under the moniker of Michelle Willis Group, featuring Marla Walters (vocal), Janee Reid (vocal), Andre Reid (vocal), Heather Crawford (guitar), Charles James (bass), and Shawn Rompre (drums). She spent years performing weekly Piano Bar residencies at Toronto's Jacobs & Co. and the Tom Jones Steakhouse.
A 2009 collaboration with acclaimed Toronto alt roots band The Henrys led Willis to form a new group with Henrys' slide guitarist Don Rooke and veteran violinist Hugh Marsh. Thus began the modern roots band, Three Metre Day. The trio recorded the 2012 album Coasting Notes (GroundUP Music), and scored the 2013 independent film Still Mine, the latter of which earned them a Best Original Score nomination from the Canadian Screen Awards. They were also featured on Iggy & The Stooges 2013 album, Ready To Die, after forming a friendship with guitarist James Williamson.
In 2013, Willis began a monthly songwriting residency at Toronto's Tranzac Club entitled 'Songs We Write, Covers We Love'. Much of the music (and musicians) performed there became the basis from which she created her new solo album, See Us Through. She caught the attention of the Grammy Award-winning instrumental jazz-funk-fusion band Snarky Puppy. After a few short tours in Ontario, Quebec, New York and Massachusetts, began opening for Snarky Puppy in the US and Europe.
In 2015, Michelle traveled to New Orleans to be featured on Snarky Puppy's Family Dinner Vol. 2 album, singing a duet with Laura Mvula and playing pump organ. It was there she met musicians Becca Stevens and David Crosby, whom along with Snarky Puppy bassist, Michael League she would eventually form the Lighthouse band, as well as many other future musical collaborations.
Her debut solo record, See Us Through (2016), was released on GroundUP Music, a label started by Michael League. She has since toured her album across Europe, Scandinavia, USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore, as both support and headliner.
Currently, along with her own band, Michelle is a member of both the David Crosby 'Lighthouse' and 'Skytrails' band, the Becca Stevens Band, and the Justin Stanton Project.