“Close to the end of the set, she sang a Bessie Smith blues with the line, ‘I’m as good as any woman in your town.’ In New Orleans music, that’s a bold statement – but she is, and better, too.”
– Alison Fensterstock, New Orleans Times-Picayune
Looking back, it’s no surprise that when a precocious nine year-old Meschiya Lake hit the stage for a singing contest at a Rapid City, South Dakota steakhouse, she already believed that she could hold her own with the best of them. She had been singing around the house, and competing against adults who thought she was “cute” didn’t intimidate her. When she won the contest – which came with $500 prize and a weekly in-house singing gig – it made sense that – in some form or another – the groundwork for a career had been laid, even if she didn’t realize it herself at the time.
For several more years singing for fun and joy continued to trump music as vocation for Lake, but it was only in her early twenties during her stint as a member of the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow and End of the World Circus – a ragtag traveling troupe that blended traditional circus arts with modern sideshow entertainment – that she ultimately realized exactly what she wanted to do as an adult.
That was more than ten years ago, and New Orleans has been her home ever since. In 2007 she began singing with the Loose Marbles, a traditional jazz outfit on Royal Street; a year later she formed the country-influenced duo Magnolia Beacon with Erika Lewis; in the Spring of 2009 she went on to create The Little Big Horns Jazz Band.
Fronting the Big Horns has taken Lake around the globe with stops at such venerable stages as Lincoln Center and major international festivals in the United States, Brazil, Denmark, the Netherlands, Russia, and the U.K. Along the way Lake and the Little Big Horns have garnered international praise and accolades, including being crowned First Lady of Jazz at the 2013 Sun Valley Jazz Festival. But most importantly, back home in New Orleans, Lake was recognized as Female Performer of the Year three years running at the Big Easy Awards, was named Best Female Singer in Offbeat Magazine’s Best of the Beat poll in 2013 and 2014, and in 2013 the Little Big Horns were honored with the Best of the Beat’s coveted Best Trad Band award. Along the way, Meschiya’s also found time to work in the studio as vocalist with musicians like Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah as well as singing for a gentleman by the name of Tom Waits.
But whether it’s on record or on stage, the Little Big Horns are a force to be reckoned with, a group of seasoned pros led by a fearless force of nature in the person of Ms. Lake. She’s come a long way since her South Dakota talent show and traveling circus days, and she’s got a long way to go yet.
“Meschiya Lake rocks back on her heels, lifts her chest, and opens her throat like an air raid siren to croon in a thrilling pre-microphone style that…can make you feel by turns as though you were shivering around a campfire in a railroad yard or drinking in a Budapest nightclub in 1938.”
-Dan Baum, The New Yorker