Statesville native gets an unexpected spotlight at Dreamville Festival

Josiah Russell was working security at the Dreamville Festival in Raleigh to earn extra community service hours for school. Little did he know, he would get a chance to sing on stage.

The two-day music festival featured more than 20 R&B and Hip-Hop artists, including singer Kehlani.

Russell, 20, was singing backstage when Kehlani overhead him. Intrigued by his voice, she asked Russell if he knew any of her songs and said she wanted to invite him on stage.

“I told her I didn’t, but then little did I know she still calls me up,” he recalled.

The crowd at Dorothea Dix Park couldn’t hold back their applause as Russell sang a snippet of “Love” by Musiq Soulchild. Russell couldn’t help but smile as he hugged Kehlani before walking off stage.

“I had to test his gangsta,” Kehlani said via Instagram, recalling the night. “He was amazing.”

Kehlani shared a video of Russell’s performance on Instagram. The video, now on Russell’s page, has more than 14,000 views.

Russell said his gift for singing was first recognized when he was 3 years old when he began singing in church. Gospel music, he said, has had a big influence on his life, with Mary Mary and Zarcardi Cortez being among his favorite artists.

Now a junior at North Carolina Central University, Russell has used his singing to keep him involved on campus.

He is currently a member of the school’s Worship and Praise Inspirational (WPI) Mass Choir, and he opened for Landria Johnson and Fred Hampton during the 2021 Homecoming Gospel Concert.

Last month, Russell was elected Mr. NCCU for the 2022-2023 academic year. He is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in public relations with plans to work in crisis management, media management or public affairs.

While he enjoys listening to various genres, he hopes to find success as a gospel artist. He released a debut single, “Let Me Be Me,” on Jan. 31 on Apple Music.

“I’m still soaking it in right now,” he said about the ongoing support he’s received on social media. “It was great to be on stage and to be up there sharing a platform, because Kehlani didn’t have to do that.”

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