As she performed at Pizza Dina one weekend night, playing piano and singing covers as she did most every Friday and Saturday night, Jolie Wright couldn’t believe the crowd that had gathered to listen.
Filling the sidewalks and spilling into Hypolita Street, dozens of passersby stopped in their tracks, in awe of the voice they heard carrying throughout the bustling streets of downtown St. Augustine.
The smooth, powerful voice belonged to 21-year-old Jolie – her onstage moniker.
“I can’t even describe it,” Wright said. “There’s so many people out there and they’re all literally chanting my name and I was like, ‘What is going on right now?” It’s crazy to think about that. You don’t expect people to stop and listen, but they do. I’m so thankful that they do. Moments like that are crazy.”
For much of Wright’s singing career, her success has come as a surprise. Maybe not as much to others though as it has been to her.
As a 14 year old, Wright entered a songwriters competition, filled with seasoned artists, much more experienced than her – and won. And earlier this month, she was selected as Folio Weekly’s Best Female Vocalist in St. Augustine, an honor she didn’t even know she was nominated for.
“I was going on [to the voting website] to vote for somebody else,” Wright said. “I just saw my name. I was like, ‘What the heck? Time to start advertising. I’m late to the game already.’ So that was crazy. And then I won that, which was even crazier … I didn’t even think that St. Augustine would acknowledge me as that because the other people on the nominee list, they had been here for like over 10 years So I was like, how did I make this list in the first place?”
Her first gig at Pizza Dina in October 2017, at first, seemed like it wouldn’t happen. Wright sent a Facebook message to the restaurant asking if she could play on their patio. A month passed, and she hadn’t heard back. “That was a bust,” she thought. Until out of the blue, she received a response asking her to come sing for a night. After that, the restaurant wanted her every Friday and Saturday.
And she’s gained some loyal supporters in the process. With so many tourists passing through the city, she has fans from around the world. And some locals come out to her performances regularly.
“I have one couple who comes, like every week,” she said. “Do you ever get tired of listening to me? I feel like I would.”
Since Pizza Dina closed in October, Wright has found a home performing at other venues in the city, such as Colonial Oak Music Park, Prohibition Kitchen and Casa de Vino.
But while she loves the St. Augustine crowds, Wright said she has bigger goals for her career. In December, Wright auditioned for “America’s Got Talent.” She’ll know in the next couple months if she advances. In April, she plans to release her own, original music. She called her music “acoustic indie,” and always stripped down – “very acoustic and organic sounding.”
“I’m not going to say like I want to be like Taylor Swift, like the biggest pop star there ever was,” she said. “I think the end goal for me is just to be in a place where I can make money off of what I’m doing now. However much that is, I don’t really care. But enough to live off of and be comfortable and to be able to just tour and show up in a state. Not Florida, not St. Augustine, and people would actually show up … That’s somewhere to start. Maybe I’ll dream bigger one day.”
Shy and reserved as a child, Wright’s passion for singing seemed unexpected. Apprehensive about performing in public, Wright forced herself to step outside her comfort zone. She first started performing publicly when she was 14. Performing now, she said, is second nature.
While Wright’s whole family is musically inclined, she’s the only one to pursue it professionally. Her mother plays piano, her father sings and plays guitar. Her sisters sing too. And they’ve been encouraging of her choice to do so. At first, Wright’s parents thought it was “a childhood fantasy,” but as she got older, the bug to play music professionally never went away.
“They didn’t really think it would like go anywhere,” she said. “I didn’t think it would go anywhere honestly, but they’ve been super supportive. They’ve signed me up for competitions and stuff because they thought it could happen. You don’t know. Even if they had their doubts, they’ve helped me out.”
And for that, Wright is lucky. Performing, she said, is the only job she would want to have.
“In a way, I just can’t help it,” she said. “There’s literally nothing in this world that I wanted to do more than music. So in high school when I had to start getting more serious about a career, I started thinking, if I’m going to do music, it’s now or never. I liked the idea of writing songs and putting them out there to the world so that people can relate to them. And maybe it can help somebody, someday, get through something.”