In 2020, when almost every music venue in the city was closed, Janis Russell filled the streets of Fort Greene with her beautiful singing voice. Accompanied by her husband Mike Weatherly on bass and their friend Marc Daine on guitar, Janis started performing a series of free concerts in front of her house. Cars pulled over, friends set up picnic chairs, and passers-by sat on nearby stoops, all listening to the trio’s renditions of jazz and R&B standards. “STOOP MUSIC” as they called it, brought art and comfort to the neighborhood during a difficult time.
Janis Russell was born in Indiana but has lived most of her life in Fort Greene, where she and Mike raised their daughter Candice and have become fixtures of the local community. When Janis moved to the neighborhood, she discovered the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. She has served the church in many ways, most notably as the leader of its Inspirational Ensemble, which she took over in 2001 after the founding director, her close friend Oliver Williams, passed away. The group performs every second Sunday and holds two popular concerts each year.
As new and tall buildings go up, Janis hopes that the community of Fort Greene will remain strong. Her advice for leading a community is to be patient. “You’re going to work with different types of people with different points of view,” she says. “You have to be willing to listen and be willing to change.”