Let Freedom Ring
by Hilary Kraus
Photos provided by Candace Woodson
The words came pouring out of Candace Woodson like lava from a volcano. It was last November, when Candace was alone in her car, driving back to Hilton Head after a doctor’s appointment in Charleston. The news was everything she had hoped. Candace was told she was cancer-free, unleashing an unbelievable euphoria that led her to a comfortable and familiar place—composing a song. This one starts off like this:
Tell me what you see when you look in the mirror.
It’s OK cause things are clearer.
I don’t have to worry anymore.
It’s what I say, I’m on my way.
Woodson titled her inspirational melody “Free.” The uplifting, jazzy tune shows off her wide octave range, accompanied by horns, saxophone, bass, keyboard and drums. The song was released for purchase on iTunes and Amazon in mid-August and will be on her CD that she plans to have finished in October.
She’ll call the CD “Songs of Survival” (SOS), which is a fitting salute to the singer/songwriter who has gone through a lot in the past year or so. Candace was diagnosed with breast cancer during an annual checkup in July 2014. She had been misdiagnosed at another medical facility, one year earlier, and said she considers herself “a walking miracle.”
Candace elected to tackle the disease by taking cancer medication for the next five years. She also underwent a total mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. The support has been tremendous. Her gratitude to others has been equally as giving.
“We all want to be free,” Candace said, taking herself back to the joyous day she found out she was cancer free. “Whether it’s from abuse, bondage, financial worries—we all want to be free.”
Candace’s talent is appreciated throughout the music community. She packs the house on Tuesday nights at Ruby Lee’s Sports, Blues and Soul Food restaurant and music venue on Hilton Head. She originally was known as Candace Woodson and the Domino Theory Band, but more recently performs on her own with hired musicians.
“We refer to her as the Tina Turner of Ruby Lee’s,’ said Tressa Govan, who works at her family’s restaurant. “I like the way she interacts with the crowd. She’s a ball of energy.” On some occasions, the petite, attractive entertainer wears clothes from Tressa’s own Glitz and Glam Boutique. On all occasions, Candace knows how to captivate an audience. Tressa said when Candace sings a favorite of her dad’s—All I Can Do Was Cry by Etta James—“she hits the keys!”
Candace and her two older sisters were introduced to music early on when they sang at their church in Paducah, Ky. “That’s our foundation. In this country [African Americans] have to find a way . . . it was a haven. That’s why the shooting in Charleston was so devastating. If the church could not be a safe place to come together, then where else could we come?” said Candace, who is at ease sharing introspective thoughts.
Life was anything but idyllic for the family. Candace’s mother had the strength to remove her girls from an abusive situation. Candace continued to pursue her music throughout her adolescence, branching past gospel into other genres like R&B and pop. Her path led her to Tennessee State University, where she earned a degree in commercial music.
Over the years, Candace has worked as a director of promotions for a record label and at many other music-related jobs, while pursuing her dream of making a living as a singer.There were odd jobs along the way, like the time when Candace was in her 20s and working at a shoe store in Montgomery, Ala. “The manager got married or something and I sung in the stockroom for his wedding present,” Candace said. “Everyone said, ‘Why are you selling shoes?’ And I was like, I get it . . . and I quit.’’
Candace and her husband at the time moved from Columbia to Hilton Head in 2009 as a way to advance their son Jared’s tennis opportunities. The couple’s second son Morgan is following the same path as a gifted tennis player. The couple’s marriage broke up, forcing Candace to come up with her own financial plan. That’s when she went full throttle back into singing and songwriting.
She said she’s more determined than ever to break through in a tough industry. She doggedly continues to seek out a record label and producer. “There are people like myself who are doing it the old-fashioned way. Go get education, go work hard, connect with people and build relations; and yet still have to struggle to get inside of this industry,” Candace said
Her big-picture plan is to put together a tour with hired musicians and spread her positive message through her songs. “My goal is to use it to motivate and to encourage and to inspire,” she said. “So people can say, if Candace can do it, we can do it, too.
Background: Born and raised in Paducah, Ky.
Sons: Jared, 19, student-athlete at Eastern Illinois University; and Morgan (Momo), 9, student at Hilton Head Preparatory School.
Singers/band who inspire Candace: Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Luther Vandross, ABBA, Earth, Wind and Fire.
Quote un-quote: “I’m a lover of anything done well.”
What attracts you to Hilton Head? “I like the freedom of walking to the beach, walking my dogs with my children and just talking to neighbors. It’s a feeling that you’re part of a community.”