As one of the few Black women in country music, singer-songwriter and producer Carmel Helene isn’t afraid to stand out. But although it might be tough to believe now, Helene once struggled to break out of her shell and unleash her ferocious identity. From staying home alone while her mother worked seven days a week to being the only Black kid in her entire school, she often escaped and found solace in country and rock music.
Originally from San Francisco, California, Helene is recognized for her husky voice and high-energy performances. She’s done session work for national commercials and television such as McDonald’s, “C.S.I.,” BET Jazz and the NBC Super Bowl. At the core of it all, however, country music is her passion. “Its brilliant use of song imagery is where my love for songwriting came from,” says Helene. Her combined love for country and rock music also led her to release her latest single, “Since We Were Young,” in March of 2019.
Though she’d long been exposed to musical artists like Blondie and Dolly Parton through her parents, it wasn’t until Helene joined a rock band at age 17 that she began to uncover her true identity as a performer. “The audience response was electric and immediate,” Helene said. “Rock music made me feel the rush and liberated my wild side. Unexpectedly, I was being accepted for who I was and I was no longer the quiet little girl who stayed in her room all the time.”
Like any great artist, though, Helene had to experience an onset of lows before she could reach for success. She nearly gave up on singing entirely after seeing deals fall apart with the legendary Capitol Records and a subsequent label. But eventually, all the pain and loss led Helene to write songs to release all of her emotions.
With her musical passions still burning, Carmel didn’t give up. After touring with Luis Miguel, Carmel spent the next 25-plus years playing with prominent rock and country artists such as Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus, Michael Bolton and Johnny Hallyday. In addition, Helene found time to release both a pop and a country EP.
During the shutdown of live music this year, Helene hasn’t stopped making strides in the industry. She’s created her first production company, Tickle Belly Hill Music, to pitch her own and other artists’ music for film and TV, and she’s also been recording vocals from home.
Watch Helene’s full performance and backstage interview above!