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After Detroit-native Suai Kee worked with openly lesbian and 4 Non-Blondes’ frontwoman Linda Perry, pursuing music wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t even a question.
“Those are some huge names. And then there’s Suai,” says the 20-year-old singer-songwriter.
Although Perry, who has worked with Christina Aguilera and Pink, had some doubts about working with the recently signed Universal/Motown artist, Suai spent three days in a recording studio in North Hollywood, Calif., with the uber-producer. Suai (pronounced sway) laughs, “Here’s this really accomplished person saying, ‘That’s a good line, we should use that.'”
On the bombastic ballad and Perry/Suai collaboration “I Never Knew,” Suai, as she likes to put it, took it to church.
“It comes out here and there,” she says about her gospel influence piercing her R&B-rooted music.
Suai’s signature sound became known to metro-Detroiters when her first single “Forever and a Day” made its debut on Detroit radio station WJLB in summer 2004. “It just picked up spins and people were requesting it,” she says.
As Suai drove back from Lansing for orientation at Michigan State University, hearing the tune on the radio caught her off guard. “I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” she says. “I was with all these students getting ready to do the whole college thing, and then (I) hear (my) voice on the radio. It was this really surreal moment.”
Suai’s success streak continued as she opened for Brian McKnight and John Legend. With dancers, a baby grand piano and two background singers at her side, Suai’s performance at the Legend show triggered numerous messages on her Facebook profile, a college networking Web site.
“I got so many messages from people (saying) like, ‘I was at the John Legend U of M show, I don’t know you but you were so good,'” she says.
Now that Suai’s musical career is taking off, and she’ll release her debut album in 2007, she decided to stay home in Detroit with her mom instead of attending MSU. Suai attended Cass Technical High School for her freshman year of high school and graduated in 2004 from Cranbrook Kingswood, where she befriended several gay people.
“They were definitely a presence at the school,” Suai says.
Recently a close friend of hers told her he was gay. “It was just like, ‘Wow, I never knew this and I thought we knew everything about each other,'” she says. “…He’s still like my best friend so I can’t just not love him anymore. It’s not an issue.”