A Big Welcome to Wilmington

Merging classical, soul and jazz, newcomer Kaloni Baylor took home the title at Musikarmageddon Solo competition on April 1. Now she’s ready to hit the local circuit.

The young woman seated at the grand piano sang and played with poise, channeling vulnerable emotion tempered by her commanding presence. The woman, Kaloni Baylor, was one of 16 contestants vying for the top spot at singer-songwriter contest Musikarmageddon Solo at the baby grand on April 1.

A few hours and two more rounds of fast-paced eliminations later, it came as no surprise when 25-year-old Baylor was named winner of the third annual competition. The judges voted unanimously for her, and guitarist Joe Campbell was runner-up.

Baylor’s composure cracked when she walked back on stage for her $200 prize—her eyes were watering and she was visibly shaking.

“I was so surprised,” she says a few weeks later while sipping juice at a Market street café. “My nerves skyrocketed that day for some reason, but being the only person on stage…it’s kind of freeing. It seems like it would be scary, but to have that time to speak or sing, it’s a release.”

The petite Baylor is unsure at first what made her stand out among the other singer-songwriters, including one or two other pianists. Finally, she says she hopes it was her songwriting—and her experiential method of sharing lyrics with the audience—that set her apart. On stage, she centers herself by visualizing her lyrics and their role in the music. From there, she tries to create a story and visuals for her audience. The tactic seems to work—the audience was enthralled.

Her songs usually are based on relationships, experiences or encounters, though typically written long after those events. “Later on, the memory comes back up, which makes the song come out easier,” she says.

One song she performed at Musikarmageddon Solo, “Big Wave,” was based on a dream she had during college. “It didn’t come out for a couple years,” she says. In the dream, she stood on a shoreline staring at the ocean until a tidal wave rushed toward her.

“The dream ends there. So it was good to get that out—to see something and put it on paper. I was really surprised and proud of myself for that one, too, because I didn’t realize how much of an impact a dream could make.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Baylor moved to Wilmington a year ago after graduating in 2015 with an environmental health degree from West Chester University. She’s now part-time at the Trolley Square Brew Ha Ha! and, of course, working on her music.

She began playing piano when she was 5, and as she grew up, her supportive mother drove her to piano recitals, school theater practice, church choir and more. Still, back then, music was more of a hobby. Her college years were catalyst for change. She became more serious about playing shows and developing her style—one she says is always evolving.

“There’s soul in it,” she says. “Right now, I’m trying to develop my piano playing and vocals more to get more on the jazz side of things.”

Baylor has a nine-song album, Soul, on Soundcloud.
Baylor has a nine-song album, Soul, on Soundcloud.

Baylor says she has come up with her own sound because of her varied musical background. The jazz and soul styles she’s currently working on are influenced by gospel from church choir and classical and baroque romantic pieces she grew up playing. She also has always been drawn to singer-songwriters like Carol King and the vinyl of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

She currently has a nine-song album, Soul, on Soundcloud, and promises another recording by the end of the year. Otherwise, she’ll be doing what she seems to do best: growing, and playing.

“Musikarmageddon Solo has helped me with this: being sure of myself,” she says. “I’ve always questioned, ‘Is this okay? Am I doing this right?’ But I’m feeling sure of myself and getting better and will continue working on being my own personal best.”

See Baylor perform at the Berry Festival in Wilmington between noon and 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 4. Find her music at soundcloud.com/kb_sunshine.