Singer Danielia Cotton on Embracing Her Roots

The Jersey-born artist will perform in her hometown at the Hopewell Theater on September 7.

daniella cotton
Danielia Cotton Courtesy of Chia Messina

When singer Danielia Cotton got her first earful of rock and roll, “it sounded the way I felt,” she says. At the time, she was frustrated. 

“I wished I had blonde hair and blue eyes…. I didn’t look like everybody else,” says Cotton, who grew up in Hopewell. Her first album, Small White Town, released in 2005, is about her experience as a multiracial child—she’s African-American, white, Native American, Puerto Rican, Spanish and Mexican Indian—in a predominantly white community. 

On September 7, the deep-voiced singer heads back home for an evening concert at the Hopewell Theater. (Tickets are $27-$32 at Lately Cotton, who turns 52 this month, has been looking back on her upbringing from a different perspective. “I think all that I am is because I grew up the way that I did and where I did,” she says. These days, she lives in Tribeca with her husband, a criminal defense attorney, and their 1 ½-year-old baby girl. 

Cotton grew up surrounded by various types of music. Her older brother listened to Todd Rundgren, Foreigner and Yes. Her mother liked Chaka Khan, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Wonder. Cotton’s aunts toured with Southside Johnny. “I really feel very influenced, multi-genred, because of what I was exposed to,” she says. 

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At 12, Cotton joined Brooks Ensemble Plus, the a capella gospel group her mother and her six aunts started. While attending Vermont’s Bennington College, she studied acting and spent her senior year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Peter Dinklage and Brooks Ashmanskas were her classmates. After graduation, she had a small role as a drug addict in the movie Fresh with Samuel L. Jackson. Other roles were hard to come by. “I was biracial, not specific-enough looking,” she says.

Instead, she focused on music. She now has five albums to her credit; a sixth is due this fall. Cotton writes or cowrites most of her songs. 

“I feel like you can’t really force it,” she says about songwriting. “I like it when it comes flying through you.”

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