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WUNC Youth Reporting Institute Production. Youth Reporting mentor Caitlin Leggett hosts weekly instagram lives with the movers and shakers of our community. Her introspective interviews bring the community to the world, and amplify the voices of the marginalized.

'Let Me Be Me': Josiah Russell's journey as a young gospel artist

Mr. NCCU's Josiah Russell
Courtesy Josiah Russell
Josiah Russell is the 23rd Mister North Carolina Central University.

Josiah Russell tackles being a young gospel artist today time while staying true to himself and his passion.

To be a young gospel singer today is no easy feat and Josiah Russell knows this struggle intimately.

"You can have all the runs in the world but if you don’t remember the message of the music then it’s for nothing," Russell says.

As a young man, his main challenge was staying true to the foundation of his faith and talent, while maintaining his passion for music. Russell is learning to follow the words of his own songs and "Let Me Be Me," on his way to becoming a national recording artist. Russell tackles this and more in this episode of Changing Channels with Caitlin Leggett.

Josiah Russell sings the national anthem at the September 2021 Duke Mayo Bowl
Courtesy Josiah Russell
Josiah Russell sings the national anthem at the September 2021 Duke Mayo Bowl.

Only two years into his professional music journey, Josiah Russell has already begun making his mark. Back in 2022, he sang the national anthem at the Duke Mayo Bowl in Charlotte. He has also shared the stage with some of the biggest names in gospel music, from Le'Andria Johnson to Kim Person. One of his biggest music moments happened back in April when singer and songwriter Kehlani invited him on stage to sing a few bars, at Raleigh’s own Dreamville Festival.

Follow @915wunc and @wuncyouthvoices to keep up with the Youth Reporting Institute and watch episodes of Changing Channels.

He credits his talent and opportunities to his faith in God. Our conversation highlighted his religious beliefs and how he balances them with being an artist.

When did you first embrace your faith?

“I remember being young and I was dealing with sleep paralysis. And some people believe it is sleep paralysis and some believe the restlessness is the spirit trying to talk to you. And I was raised to believe the latter so, I began to study and learn on my own. I created my own relationship with God. ... Now, I really try and let God use me. I’m a praise and worship leader first, artist second and I might get up there thinking I’m going to say one thing but something else is just on my heart.”

Where did your music journey begin?

“My mom was actually my first favorite singer. She had released a single before I was even born. But I remember being young in Statesville, NC and I sang a Mary Mary song at church at like the age of six years old. From there, I just kept singing. Fast forward to now I've had some great opportunities. I was blessed to sing backup for Kim Person and open up for Le'Andria Johnson. “

You had something really cool happen to you at Dreamville Festival... tell us about that.

“Yeah, so I was working the festival for community service but I wasn't going to go there and not plug myself. So I had been passing out cards and singing for people when they asked but I had a friend tell me he could get me backstage. ... So, eventually I was able to work my way over to where the artist was and to be honest with you I didn't really know who Kehlani was. I was singing even before she got there, but granted when I saw who I thought was there, did I sing a little louder? Of course. She heard my voice and was asking if I knew any of her music and I said that I didn't but even after that, she still asked me to come on stage and sing a little bit.”

What is your writing process like? Where do you pull from lyric-wise?

“I really try to pull from experience with my music. I think of the Jonathan McReynolds song where he says 'Lord, I’m split in two, part of me loves the world and the other loves you,' and feeling like that sometimes at such a young age is hard. But as much as I want the music to sound good, the message has to be there first.”

What's next for you?

“Well, I'll be singing at another professional sporting event soon. Let’s get my new single “Make it” to 200k streams. Right now it’s at 100k. And well... I’m going to keep making music but I’m really focused on school right now. I’ll be officially crowned Mr. NCCU soon so my focus is there as well.”

Outside of music, Russell serves as North Carolina Central University's Mr. NCCU.

“If I could find a job description that fits what I do now, that is what I would want to do for the rest of my life. It’s the most fulfilling role, being that I get to make someone’s day, even in the smallest interaction possible.”

He will officially be crowned on October 31st, 2022. All his music and more can be found on his Instagram @josiahrussellmusic.

Caitlin Leggett was WUNC's News Administrative Intern & Youth Reporting Mentor.
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