By Katherine Duke ’05

Nina Shallman could become the next Norah Jones. For now, she’s an Amherst sophomore.

[Music] In her song “Daisies,” Nina Shallman ’18 coaxes an unnamed companion: Sing those notes that tickle my spine. But it’s her own voice that has been thrilling audiences.

At Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall this spring, Shallman—accompanied by her cousin Aaron Blick on bass—sang a selection of original and cover songs and played piano and ukulele for a crowd of 45. Darya Bor ’18, a reviewer for The Amherst Student, praised the “poignant, romantic tone” of her lyrics and described her voice as “like smoke, like Chicago.” For Shallman, below, a highlight of the evening was that some Amherst friends showed up to support her, even though they were busy with finals.

Nina Shallman ’18 at singing into microphone

She returned to the Iron Horse 10 days later to open for veteran singer-songwriter Holly Near, before a full house of 170. “It was a much bigger crowd than my show had,” Shallman says, “but she really put me at ease.” Which is good, because Shallman’s career seems to be taking off.

The Southern California native grew up harmonizing to Beatles music and absorbing the influences of Ella Fitzgerald and Joni Mitchell. She took up piano at age 6, poetry at 11, guitar and songwriting at 13, studio recording at 14. When she returned to a Los Angeles area studio as a high school senior to record some songs as a supplement for her college applications, she and producer Andrew Williams clicked and decided to collaborate professionally. Shallman’s aunt became her manager, and three other L.A. musicians joined Blick to form her backup band. Reviewing a live show, a blogger known as “Concert Addict Chick” predicted Shallman could become “the next generation’s version of Norah Jones.” “Daisies” and several other original songs have gotten radio airplay in Western Massachusetts and Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Shallman has been balancing her music career with the demands of college life. One of two students chosen to represent Amherst at the 2015 Five College PoetryFest, she hopes to major in music or English, or both. She sings with The Bluestockings and a student jazz combo—experiences that she says have kept her voice warm, taught her about music theory and group dynamics and helped her overcome “debilitating stage fright.”

This summer she’s vacationing with family, reading Moby-Dick and performing at the E Spot Lounge in Studio City, Calif., and The Mint in L.A.—a venue she’s sold out twice before.

Nina Shallman ’18 with cousin holding playlist Shallman and her cousin Aaron Blick, who plays bass in her band, with the playlist from her Iron Horse show.

Soon, with Williams’ help, Shallman hopes to release her “first real album.” “We’re still working on the track listings, because I have a bunch of songs, and it’s hard to choose, because they’re like my babies!” she says. “We’ve had enough songs to make a real album for a while, but I was a little busy.” 

Beth Wallace Photography