In addition to her powerful, soulful voice, Kamerra “Kam” Franklin can partially thank a severely injured ankle for her whirlwind path to fronting The Suffers, an eclectic 10-piece band that’s gigged on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” performed at this year’s Super Bowl festivities in her hometown of Houston, and appeared in TV commercials promoting her native city.
Self-described as “Gulf Coast soul,” The Suffers have been touring the U.S. aggressively in recent years and are quickly becoming a staple on the summer festival circuit with 2017 appearances locked in for Lockn’ in Virginia, High Sierra Music Festival in California and Hangout Fest in Alabama. The band’s spring tour — which includes a swing through Europe, with dates in Sweden, Germany, England and Ireland — will stop by Bloomsburg Sunday, Feb. 26, for a performance at Bloomsburg University’s Haas Center for the Arts. Boston-based folk-rock harmony trio, The Ballroom Thieves, will open for The Suffers at 7:30 p.m. The Thieves perform a stripped-down acoustic versions of modern and traditional rock songs, as well as their own neo-folk tunes.
“It’s the best job ever,” Franklin, 29, said by phone recently, while “doing my hair and makeup” before appearing at a charity event in Houston. “We work our asses off. I’m a hustler. I kind of had a feeling I’d be here. I thought I’d be here quicker. I’m excited for every opportunity that comes my way. We don’t take any of this for granted. I feel any show we play is better than the last.”
A performer since the age of 5, when she began singing gospel songs at church before showcasing her voice at weddings, funerals and theater productions, Franklin left the music industry at the age of 23 due to the ankle injury and landed a job with an investment bank, where she worked five years as a receptionist and drafting contracts.
At the time of the injury, which prevented her from walking for three months, Franklin was trying to make a go of a solo career after fronting a ska-punk band. Franklin got the itch to return to music in 2011 when friends of hers from previous bands she worked with coaxed her out of “retirement” for a side project from their own main gigs. They were mostly covering pop songs. They started creating their own music. “The more music we made together, the more we realized we had something more special,” recalled Franklin. “We started presenting a little more music. The side band thing evolved” into The Suffers.
Franklin described The Suffers as more “beef stew” than gumbo, explaining the band’s soul influence serves as a base of “vegetable stock” with ingredients that include jazz as “the carrot,” gospel as “the garlic” and Latin percussion as “the salt.” “You start adding all these things in, and you get to the point where you’re making a really good stew,” Franklin said. “A lot of people think it’s New Orleans gumbo. But if you look a Houston, it’s not that far away. You have the same cultural influences.”
The Suffers are no strangers to Pennsylvania either. The band has formed a tight friendship with Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin that dates back to his days playing with the Houston Texans. The Suffers were one of the bands he turned to for charity events he hosted in Philadelphia at venues like World Cafe Live and Union Transfer. “Connor is a known hipster. He’s always supporting local music. We love him,” Franklin said. “Philadelphia has been great to us. They really do respect us.”
Franklin said she also continues to marvel at the respect she and the band have continued to receive from the industry. Franklin’s voice has been compared to Chaka Khan’s and other legendary funk and soul singers. “I’m always shocked by that,” Franklin said of the comparisons. “I feel like those ladies are immaculate. They’re just so perfect in my mind and in my view. Chaka especially. It’s always a blessing to be compared to anyone you admire. I very much view myself as a work in progress. There’s a lot of work still to be done.”
Franklin and members of The Suffers will present a free lecture at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon entitled: “Making it as a Singer; and using internet videos to boost your band’s product.” The lecture is free and open to all singers, bands and would-be performers. Attendees should enter the main lobby of Haas Center and will be guided to the lecture room from there.
The Suffers appear at the Celebrity Artist Series as part of the Jazz Touring Network, a program administered by the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation made possible through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Regional Tour Program.
For tickets to The Suffers’ Feb. 26 performance with The Ballroom Thieves and other Celebrity Artist Series events and independent movies at Bloomsburg University, visit www.cas.buzz.