It's easy to feel intimidated by talented people. I'll be the first to admit that I always shy away from confrontation when I'm in the presence of someone whose art or music I admire, even if I'm just standing in line behind them in the bathroom. (Which actually happened with one of my all-time favorite singers, mind you. I'm still beating myself up over it.)
There's just something incredibly ethereal about powerful, creative people, and it often leaves many of us jarred, even panicky. But somehow, 29-year-old Danielle Davis Baylor — a spiritual, self-made musician and influencer in the greater Washington, D.C. area — manages to put you at ease in her presence.
It's pretty rare for someone to possess the ability to light up a room just by walking into it, but Baylor, who goes simply by Danni, does just that. She is a breath of fresh air in this beaten-down, broken world we live in today. I recently had a conversation with Danni to find out what inspires her and invigorates her passion to produce what she calls "life music."
Born and raised in and around the Washington, D.C. area, Danni found her talent early on. "I started singing, playing piano and dancing at the age of 5. I started acting at age 11," she tells Vocally.
But talent alone only gets you so far. Determination, dedication, and diligence must fill up one's docket, too — and even when she was little, Danni recognized that.
"I began journaling at a young age as well, but didn’t put my writing into song form until my teenage years," she says. "I picked up the guitar shortly after that." And while most kids dabble in a slew of courses in school, Danni pursued music throughout her entire academic career. She now holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Theatre from Bowie State University.
That's not to say she didn't have any doubts along the way, though. For a few years, anxiety overpowered her enthusiasm for singing; she's since realized that she threw herself into dancing in an attempt to avoid it.
I still had butterflies in my stomach when I sang, but after getting my chops up and constantly singing, I had the butterflies flying in formation.
"I would have terrible nerves whenever I stepped onto a stage, praying that they’d go away one day. They never did," she says. "Dancing came so naturally to me and I felt free and at home while doing it. Eventually, I started to doubt my ability as a singer altogether. I also became self-conscious of how people looked at me. You know how tricky those teenage years can be."
But with a little guidance from above, that passion Danni found early on eventually evolved into a purpose. At just 19, she began pursuing music full-time, recording and performing at various venues in the D.C. area. "I still had butterflies in my stomach when I sang, but after getting my chops up and constantly singing, I had the butterflies flying in formation," she says.
With a voice that excavates the emotional landscapes of soul and jazz yet rivals the pitch of pop sensations, Danni is carving out her own space beyond traditional genres. She's deemed it "life music."
"Right now, my music is a reflection of where I am in my life at this point," she explains. "Right now, I feel free. I feel restored. I feel as though I can truly accomplish anything I set my mind to and I look forward to combining all the gifts God’s given me to let my light shine."
Danni's newest musical venture, set to release later this month, blends bits of EDM, future bass, and trap. She likes to mix things up to keep her audience captivated. "I'm always trying to evolve," she says. But mostly, she just hopes to inspire others to feel at home in their own bodies.
"With my heartfelt and more introspective songs, I hope to motivate people to be aware of who they are, where they are, and to be honest about how they got there," she says. "With my upbeat dance songs, I’d like people to feel free and light as a feather as they sing along to my catchy and bright melodies."
I had the pleasure of hearing Danni perform live at Blues Alley, Georgetown's historic jazz club, one dreary evening back in 2015. And even though rain was falling steadily outside during her set, her spirited songs — "Just Me," "Lava," and "Lose the Fight" among them — accompanied by her unrivaled band, illuminated the venue. Her voice is kind, her words are sincere, and her performances are animated and invigorating.
"I still had butterflies in my stomach when I sang, but after getting my chops up and constantly singing, I had the butterflies flying in formation."
Danni says her acoustic ballad "Just Me" is one of her personal favorites — and it's easy to see why. The essence of its lyrics is quite simple, but it's something we all need to be reminded of: "I'm just me and that's all I'll ever be. And that's alright, alright, alright with me," she sings. It's raw. It's introspective. It's gripping.
"As artists, we don’t know who our music is touching. Being independent, it’s hard to tell whether or not your music is making a real impact," she tells Vocally, launching into the retelling of the time she witnessed the real-life impact of her words while standing in line at a clothing store.
"While standing in the checkout line, I heard a woman call my name. We both [she and her husband] turned around, and the young lady came up to me as if she were starstruck, in a sense," Danni marvels. "I didn’t know how to act because I had never experienced that before.
"She told me that she listens to 'Just Me' every day. While she’s telling me this, she starts crying, trying to explain how much the song meant to her," she continues. "I started to tear up myself, right there in the line. I was so humbled and motivated at the same time. I was grateful that God allowed me to have that experience and see that the songs really are touching people’s hearts."
It's easy for your head to swell when you hear things like that from your audience, but Danni isn't in it for the fame. Humility and hard work are what have gotten her to this point, and humility and hard work are what will sustain her and propel her forward.
"I just want to beat the Danni from the day before. ... I love seeing progress and that doesn’t happen unless you are diligent," she says, adding: "I also think of my children (if God blesses me with them) and what I want to build with my husband for them."
Above all, by sharing her art with the world, Danni's main goal is to "encourage people to chase their dreams."
"I know how it is to feel crippled by negative thoughts and self-talk," she empathizes. "There are people who may feel they’ve wasted too much time to chase their dreams. [But] it’s never too late to get better. It’s never too late to start again and build from the ground up. Every day is another chance."