Blues singer Janiva Magness has a life full of profound moments. Some were horrifying. Some were inspiring. And all were important.

"When I was in my teens, I lost both my parents to suicide," said Magness during a phone call from her home in Los Angeles. "I had it rough growing up and was in 12 foster homes in two years. When I was 14, I saw Otis Rush in concert. And it changed something inside, but I wasn't sure what it was. But I did end up auditioning for singing gigs and getting them later on."

But becoming a musician didn't happen until Magness was in her 20s, she said. "I was working in an office with a wonderful woman who was 50. And she told me to not do what she did.

"I said, 'What?' and she said, 'Don't do what I did. I wanted to be doctor, but I was too scared to try. And here I am 50 years old and working in an office, not knowing if I could have been a doctor. Don't do that. If you want to do something, you need to at least try.'

"That stayed with me, and I decided to give music a shot," said Magness, who is now 51. "Winston Churchill said, 'If you're in hell, keep moving." And that what I did."

After deciding to try music, Magness found work in a music studio and found jobs singing backup. She then hooked up with mentor Bob Tate, the late Sam Cooke's music director.

In 1997, Magness released her first album, "It Takes One to Know One." A few albums and two record labels later, Magness found herself at Alligator Records. Her new album, "What Love Will Do," is her Alligator Records debut.

The album title sums up her life's philosophy.

"There is so much that is good in the world," she said. "It takes someone to take time to listen and to do something. When I was going through the hard parts of my life, at the time, I couldn't tell you why. But now I can."

Magness is the national spokeswoman for Casey Family Programs, promoting national foster care (

"I've been through the foster-care system and it worked for me," said Magness. "I do shows for kids in foster care and I can stand before them and tell them that they can do wonderful things. What they are going through will help them in the future. They might not know it now, but they will later."

If you go ...

What: Janiva Magness

Where: Utah Arts Festival, Amphitheater Stage

When: Thursday, 8:15 p.m.

How much: free with Utah Arts Festival admission

Web: or