After a 10-year hustle in the music and theater business, Winnetka native Jess Godwin realized, through service work, that she needed to be the person and artist she wants to be every day.
“I was so focused on appearances and being the best, I forgot what is most important,” Godwin says.
Godwin, 32, spent a year in Atlanta working with a studio, doing photoshoots and trying to get her image down. The tiny mole on her cheek, she was told, was going to be a huge problem. She would have to get it removed or filled in. “I thought, if this means I can sing for a career, I’ll do it,” says Godwin. Consequently, she found herself becoming increasingly vane and insecure.
“If I wasn’t showing skin, executives would ask if I had body issues,” she says. So she revealed more. She even did a sexy photoshoot with one hand on her lip for her sassy song “You’re the Lucky One.”
“It was what I thought people wanted me to be,” says Godwin. “I hated it. I was so embarrassed.”
Godwin took dance lessons in an attempt to be more interesting. She appeared on WGN, shaking her booty and screaming out of tune. Inside, she felt like a weak girl who didn’t know what she wanted. Soon, she found she couldn’t sing on stage without crying.
“Everything fell down around me,” says Godwin. “I didn’t find joy in music anymore.”
She stopped singing professionally and promoting shows and focused on things like playing tennis and painting. When she volunteered at Chicago-area shelters, hospitals and nursing homes, something clicked.
“Music can be such a positive thing if you use it for good,” Godwin says.
In a small room at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, Godwin played a keyboard and sang Carole King covers and Stevie Wonder songs. People would listen, sing along and share their stories. It felt good for her to connect with others.
“It wasn’t going to advance my career,” Godwin says. “But it felt right. Art helps people feel better.”
Soon after her revelation at the shelter, Godwin began creating with abandon. Focusing on what she truly liked helped her recapture the joy of creating. She decided to develop an anthology — 12 stories, songs and service projects, each focused on people who made an impact in her life. She wrote, filmed and funded the entire project herself, with the help of many creative and kind friends. Experience Godwin’s passion, soulful style and striking voice for yourself here.
This month, Godwin will release “When the Snow Thaws,” a collaboration with 300 artists and friends. The song focuses on her nagging need to feel validated, which can hinder her from doing more in the world.
“At the end of the day,” Godwin says, “I realized we are all inherently special. So what are we doing today?” It is a call to action to change the world for the better.
Godwin continues to rise to that call. She will be a part of the Out in the Open Sleepout to fight youth homelessness on Nov. 20.
Godwin enjoys sharing the lessons she’s learned about the music industry with students. Budding artists enrolled in her songwriting workshop will not only receive instruction on pop music structure, but also guidance on career and character.
“I care about developing humans — not making stars,” she says. She tells students and parents: It’s not about big breaks, but building sustainable careers.
Despite some hard falls, Godwin’s star continues to rise. She performed in Northlight Theatre’s “Shining Lives” this past spring. Her original music was featured in seasons 4 and 5 of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms.” Watch this gorgeous video of Godwin’s “Fool Me Once” starring Chloe Lukasiak.
“If you try to make everyone around you happy, you will end up being miserable,” Godwin says. “Don’t let others tell you who you are.” Being true to herself, she no longer feels like she is trying to manipulate the world.
See Godwin perform her anthology live at the Athenaeum Theatre on Dec. 4. Enjoy a mix of songs and monologues accompanied by art and video projections. Attend the after-party with silent art auction after the show. Half the auction proceeds will benefit Chicago-area charities.