Grammy Nominee Jessy Wilson Opens Up About the Multiple Tragedies She's Overcome

Wilson is nominated for best song written for visual media at the 2023 Grammy Awards

It wasn't too long ago that singer/songwriter Jessy Wilson was having doubts that she would ever become the superstar her mom always said she would be.

"Let me just say that my mom is always right," states Wilson with a slight laugh during an interview with PEOPLE. "But there was a time that I started thinking that maybe, this was the one thing that she might be wrong about."

But now, as Wilson finds herself with a Grammy nomination firmly in her hand for best song written for visual media at the 65th GRAMMY Awards for the song, "Keep Rising (The Woman King)," the New York native feels a certain bit of validation that she has been on the right track all along.

"All of this is exciting for any artist at any point in their career, but I can't help but feel especially grateful because the last year has been a whirlwind of tragic lows and expected highs," she says.

Jessy Wilson Opens Up About the Multiple Tragedies She Has Overcome
Jessy Wilson. Mary Caroline Russell

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Wilson's voice has long garnered attention. It was her mother Paula who first took notice of it when Wilson was just 3 years old.

"I knew it at 7 that this would be my life," says Wilson, who would go on to become a backup singer for blockbuster artists such as Alicia Keys and John Legend. "However, I had no idea that I would be a songwriter. That wasn't something that developed early. That came much later. But I knew that I wanted to sing, and I knew I wanted to be on stage."

And it is that stage where Wilson ultimately made a name for herself. Nevertheless, there were plenty of times of doubt.

"I was convinced that the music industry was not healthy for me," she says quietly. "My type of voice was not what the music industry wanted or needed. I felt unnecessary."

Adding to Wilson's professional uncertainty was a string of peril in her personal life. Following the death of her grandmother Bernice Brimmage, her father Glenn was diagnosed with COVID right as the pandemic was beginning to take a firm hold on New York City.

"We almost lost him," Wilson says quietly.

Jessy Wilson Opens Up About the Multiple Tragedies She Has Overcome
Jessy Wilson. Mary Caroline Russell

Soon after, Wilson lost her publishing deal and gave up her apartment in East Nashville in favor of an RV in which she and her new husband James McFarlin could travel. And then right around Christmas of 2021, she found out she was pregnant.

"I had been diagnosed with uterine fibroids, so while we were excited, we were praying every day that it all worked out," she says of herself and her husband, who goes by Jim. "But four months later, we lost him."

They had already named him Willing Reve McFarlin.

"There were times when I would think about the lyrics of 'Keep Rising (The Woman King),'" she recalls. "But the fact is that I was so down, I would say, 'For what?'"

Wilson soon found her answer when, on the very same day that her dear son had been due, she received news that the song she had co-written and performed had been chosen for The Woman King, starring Viola Davis.

"All of a sudden, all of that drive that had been dormant and all of that passion that had just been put to rest — it all came welling back up inside of me," remembers Wilson. "It was definitely a God moment."

Jessy Wilson Opens Up About the Multiple Tragedies She Has Overcome
Jessy Wilson. Mary Caroline Russell

Nevertheless, Wilson still finds herself holding both joy and pain at this time of her life.

"It's just this weird sort of balancing act," she explains. "The sorrow still does exist. It's not as loud as it was, but it's still there. And so, holding both of those feelings at the same time has really humbling."

But now, in those times of uncertainty, Wilson sings 'Keep Rising (The Woman King)' to herself.

"That's a songwriter's dream," she concludes. "It only happens sometimes that we actually write a song that we need ourselves."

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