From Abused Child to Grammy Finalist: “Montreal Protected Me” – Allison Russell

Child abuse & rsquo; e Grammy finalist: & lquo; Montr & r & eacute; al m has protected & rdash; & ndash; Allison Russell

MISE & Agrave; JOUR

For a Quebec artist, winning a Grammy nomination is in itself an achievement as rare as it is remarkable. In the case of Montrealer Allison Russell, who received three nominations last Tuesday for the largest awards ceremony in the United States, the feat is even more extraordinary when we learn of the abuse she endured during his youth.

Classified in the americana roots musical field by the Recording Academy, the 41-year-old artist received citations in the categories Best Song and Best performance, for its title Nightflyer , and Best Album for Outside Child .

“I knew I was eligible, but I didn't expect to be nominated at all”, assured the Quebecer, who has lived in Nashville for four years, in a telephone interview with Le Journal .

Released in May 2021, Outside Child is the first solo effort of Allison Russell, who has made her musical classes, in the last 20 years, with the groups Po 'Girl, Birds of Chicago and Our Native Daughters.

Infused with an elegant blend of blues, folk, jazz, gospel and rock, Outside Child is a work of resilience, hailed by American critics, which unveils the horrors of Allison Russell's childhood.

“Montreal protected me”

From the age of 5 to 15, she was sexually abused by her adoptive father. Her mother, who has severe schizophrenia, could not do anything for her. The abuse, both physical and psychological, did not stop until she fled her home to find herself on the street.

Fortunately, she remembers, Montreal was there for her.

“I slept in the Mount Royal cemetery, went to cafes 24 hours, played chess with old men. The city itself has protected me. I don't think I would have survived in another city, ”she says.

From the first song by Outside Child , which bears the name of her hometown , she pays her debt to this Montreal that she loves with love and that she can't wait to find again. “ Oh Montreal, can I dream of you tonight? ” she sings, weighing down every word in her enveloping voice.


Even though her songs are mostly in English, Allison Russell inserts several verses in the language of Molière, some of which are otherwise very evocative of the state of mind of an artist who refuses to feel sorry for herself.

So when we hear him sing “ I wish you peace, I wish you acceptance, I wish you a second chance “, in Poison Arrow , we get to the heart of the message it wishes to convey.

“I wanted to show that I survived and that I now have a life filled with love with the family I have chosen, who see me as an equal. I want to show that it's possible for things to get better. Yes, it's horrible what happened to me, but I survived the first 15 years of my life. “

She still believes that what she tells in her compositions partly explains the success of her album, also retained in the long list of the Polaris Prize, earlier this year.

“It affects emotions. I wish I was the only one who had such a childhood, but that's a third of women, a quarter of men, one in two non-binary or trans people. It is quite a pandemic of sexual violence. And if it doesn't affect you directly, then someone you love is affected. “

Friendly fight

After leaving Montreal, Allison Russell lived for a few years with her husband and Birds of Chicago duo musical partner, JT Nero, in metropolitan Illinois, where he is from, before the family moved to Nashville.

If she chose the capital of country music, it is because she already had good friends, including singers Rhiannon Giddens and Yola, who are incidentally also in contention for Grammy in the same categories as Russell.

Unsurprisingly, she is delighted and does not see them at all as rivals for a night. “I’m so happy to be nominated alongside my chosen sisters. For me, the community comes before the competition. By being nominated, I have already won. “

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