Fresh off her Musician of the Year win at the Austin Music Awards, Jackie Venson is soaring at a time when many musicians are still grounded. After canceling a world tour at the onset of the pandemic, Venson turned her focus inward. She released a whopping five projects during 2020: a studio album (Vintage Machine), two live albums (Live In Texas and Live at Austin City Limits) and two volumes of her Jackie The Robot remix project.

Venson’s impressive 2020 output also pushed her to explore more options for performing. She went all-in on live-streaming, using multiple platforms to reach more than 1.5 million people in a few short months — an effort that landed her on Pollstar’s Top Music Live streamers of 2020.

“With music, I feel love and joy unfiltered, and when I perform, that part of me soars,” Venson says. “It feels like I’m seeing the world in shades of color no one has named and hearing notes that dance all around me. I decided in March I was going to put out as much music as I could and go live as often as possible, because I wanted to give as much of that feeling away as I could.”

But it’s not just about what Venson made from her own batch of 2020’s lemons. It’s also about how she used her growing influence in the Austin community to affect change. Case in point, she turned down a televised appearance on Austin’s annual Blues on the Green event (re-dubbed “Blues on the Screen” for 2020) in protest of the event’s reliance on largely white male lineups.

Jackie Venson’s Austin City Limits debut / photo by Ismael Quintanilla

The promoters eventually asked Venson to curate the event, leading to its first-ever all-Black lineup. Later in the year, she wore a custom-made dress featuring the names of 73 Black Americans killed by law enforcement during one of the biggest moments of her career — her Austin City Limits debut.

Venson’s dedication to craft and community helped her fast forward at a time when much of the world pressed pause. “After five albums and almost 200 streams this year, I have so many new fans, friends and like-minded folks I’ve shared that feeling with and it’s just magical,” Venson says. “It makes me want to push even harder in 2021.”

Photo by Ismael Quintanilla