C.J. Mitchell spent the first twenty years of his life in what he describes as an “amazing musical boot camp,” performing at church in Bluefield, West Virginia. Playing several instruments, singing different parts, writing songs for the choir, and even serving as choir director created the singer-songwriter he is today.
But C.J. knew that he could never be as openly gay as he wanted to be in southern West Virginia. So in 2011, he relocated to Pittsburgh to forge a new path, both personally and artistically.
C.J.’s recordings are typically reflections of his life at the time. According to him, past projects have been about “crappy relationships” and had a sound heavily influenced by the pop music you’d expect to hear at a club. His newest album, The Blue EP, is unlike anything he has done before and with good reason: between the pandemic and planning for a wedding, C.J.’s life has completely changed. This project is also incredibly special to C.J. as the entire album is written about his fiancé, Jon, who he will marry this month.
Having come from a religious family, C.J. has tried to hold onto the aspects of religion that mean something to who he is and who he wants to be while letting the more harmful aspects go. He spent a lot of time convincing himself that he was forbidden to be the person that he was in church. To C.J., the fact that he has allowed himself to sound a bit more gospel on this R&B-style album than ever before is a sign that he is healing and growing. It shows: one of his new tracks, “Blue Hymn,” truly sounds like a song you might hear at a Sunday service.
“It took a lot of permission to let myself write a song that took me back in time but was still about the person that I’m in love with,” C.J. admits. “It is one of the most groundbreaking personal things that I’ve done.” The song, which C.J. says may be his favorite thing that he’s ever recorded, also features two of his best friends, Davion & Justin, and his brother Keith.
C.J.’s favorite artists tend to be those who write their own music like Lauryn Hill, Sam Smith, and Freddie Mercury. “I think there’s something very special when you listen to a song and think ‘this person had to go through this before it got to my headphones.’ ”
As C.J. points out, creating music is emotional work. “I spent years trying to teach myself to get over hurt from the past so that I can accept and give love in its purest form.” In the first track of the album, “Music to My Fears,” he sings “I’m free to be me now.” Every New Year’s Eve (his favorite holiday), C.J. makes the same resolution again and again: to be more free than he was the year before. Free in his relationship, his job, his mind, and free to purely love.
“I think that there were a lot of things that were taught to me wrong by people who were afraid of what unconditional love and acceptance would look like because they didn’t have it,” says C.J. “They didn’t know what it looked like to give it to me. He finds it important to break these unhealthy patterns and heal so that he can show unconditional love and acceptance to someone else.
“You get to make your own path, you get to shape it however you want. That is the message I want to give to people.” The message that you, too, can finally be free to be yourself and, to that end, C.J.’s already making progress on his next project: an album focused on mental health awareness.