Alexis Joi Ham (August 7, 1985), known professionally as Alexis Joi, is an American singer, songwriter, and vocal coach. Although considered primarily a performer of jazz, traditional gospel, and contemporary Christian music, Joi avoids conforming to a single musical genre, preferring instead to be recognized as possessing vocal prowess, timeless musicianship, and an uplifting message for the masses. The Gary, Indiana, native has recorded three albums and has toured internationally as part of a successful gospel act; she gained national recognition in 2018 when her cover recording of the song “The River” aired on an episode of the hit CBS-TV comedy-drama God Friended Me. Joi’s contralto voice has been called a rare gift, with vocal stylings said to resemble those of Whitney Houston, Sarah Vaughn, and Mahaila Jackson and inspirational dynamics cultivated through her gospel-music roots.
Life and music career
Joi was born in Gary, Indiana, as Alexis Joi Carter, the second of four children, to parents Daniel Carter and Nina Darling Carter (now Nina Cunningham). Joi’s earliest attempts at song creation came at age 1, through humming; her mother recognized and noted her baby daughter’s intentional melody making. Joi herself would recognize the emotional release of creating music by age 8: “Whenever I would receive punishment for something I had done, I would compose a song around whatever the punishment or discipline was that I had just received,” she recalled. “I guess you could say the motivation for my early songwriting, like for many prolific songwriters, originated from pain. My parents would listen in on me as I was singing and would laugh, partly in disbelief that I could be so constructive with such sour moments, as a kid.”
From the time Joi discovered that her voice could entertain others, she was on a mission to sing, whenever the opportunity arose and without hesitation. By age 9, she was performing for weddings, family events, school functions, and church gatherings. Joi attended the Colonial Village Church of Christ in Chicago, where her father served as pastor. The church body Joi worshipped with sang a cappella during its assemblies; she was surrounded regularly with music generated by the voice only, hearing rich harmonies devoid of mechanical instrumentation. Among the Colonial Village members, Joi received strong ear training and cemented her love of vocal performance.
Joi auditioned and was accepted into the distinguished Emerson High School for the Visual and Performing Arts as a sixth-grader, studying classical, operatic, and contemporary vocal performance under Jeanette Cowans and Marion Lynn Bowens. At Emerson, Joi began to find her vocal style and lay the performance foundation for her music career. She won several Indiana State School Music Association competitions for vocal performance and led the school’s concert choir as headmistress during her senior year. Joi also formed the singing group TAJ with friends Jennifer Israel and Taneka Hall (Hightower) during this time. The girl group would entertain audiences at school shows and community events and become a popular choice with their hometown peers.
2003–2008: The ol’ college try
Joi attended Indiana University Bloomington, where she earned a BS in Public Health with a concentration in Health Administration in 2007. During her years at IU, she performed as an alto vocalist for the school’s African American Choral Ensemble (AACE), directed by Dr. James E. Mumford. She was also a member of a small choral group called Sojourner, or SOJO for short. It was also during this time that Joi set out to pursue a professional music career. As a freshman, she teamed up with former high school classmate Christopher Carter, who was producing music tracks. Joi wrote the lyrics to a few of Carter’s tracks and created her first body of music, an EP of four songs. To promote her debut work, she booked a photoshoot with industry photographer Bruno Versace in New York. Despite Joi’s daring move, the album produced no commercial success. She continued to focus on her education and attempted singing professionally a second time, as a junior. In 2005, she produced her first gospel project, A Personal Serenade to Thee, with Dwayne Coleman and Lucius Rouser of Gary. Joi released the album as part of a solo concert held at the Buskirk Chumley Theater in Bloomington; the city’s mayor attended along with many family and friends. Once again, Joi’s independent album release yielded dismal sales; to her dismay, no real success would ever materialize for the project. After college, Joi moved to Nashville, working in public health during the day and aggressively pursuing music opportunities on nights and weekends. She regularly performed at B.B. King’s Blues Bar and Restaurant in downtown Nashville. However, after months of struggling financially and finding herself no closer to the performance success, she longed to have, Joi, relocated to Los Angeles in hopes of greater success on the music scene.
2008–2018: Beginnings of professional success
In LA, as Joi began securing performance opportunities, she gained a following of supporters outside of family and close friends for the first time in her career. In 2009, she released her second album, LIVE in L.A., Striving, co-arranged and produced with Kenneth Anderson and recorded live at The Celebrity Center Church of Scientology in Hollywood. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Philadelphia to start a new life with her boyfriend Isaiah Frank Ham, who would later become her husband. While on the East Coast, she performed at numerous venues including The Kimmel Center, TIME, The Clef Club, and Chris’ Jazz Cafe. As a guest vocalist with The Glory Gospel Singers, directed by founder Phyliss McKoy Joubert, Joi would take a three-month, 56-concert tour throughout Germany in 2013; a second tour with the group took her throughout Japan in 2014. Her experience with GGS would introduce Joi to a world of new opportunities in performance. She loved the energy and appreciation from her overseas audiences, and she determined from that point forward to make her way back there someday.
The following year, with husband Isaiah as executive producer, Joi produced her third album, Royal Renditions: Hymns & Spirituals, a collaboration with Tom Adams and Josh Nussbaum of Philadelphia. She would release the album during a live concert in Hollywood. In 2016, Joi and her husband moved to San Diego, where she quickly became a fixture on the jazz performance circuit. Legendary jazz trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos gave Joi her first opportunity to perform on the circuit by introducing her to his manager, Arlene Damasco. Damasco booked Joi at Maretalia on Coronado Island, where she performed with pianist and composer Irving Flores for five months. Joi also received a residency at The Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego, where she built a following and honed her jazz performance skills, from September 2018 to February 2019.
2018–Present: National exposure and new ventures
Joi celebrated her first successful placement of an original recording during this time. Her cover of the song, “The River” by San Diego songwriters Brian Darnell and Mark Hattersley aired on the CBS television show God Friended Me in December 2018. Joi is currently writing and recording work in the studio with this dynamic duo.
Additionally, Joi is partnering with Grammy Award-winning bass player Kevin Cooper to co-produce her fourth album, More than Love, scheduled for release in fall 2019. Among the musicians whose recordings will grace this studio album will be noted jazz greats Henry Franklin; Al Williams, founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival; Nolan Shaheed; and Ron Kobayashi.
Joi married Isaiah Frank Ham, originally of Philadelphia, in 2012 in Bryn Athens, Penn. A year earlier, she had written and recorded a song for her then-fiancé titled “Love Please Never Go Away;” she performed this song live for him during the wedding reception. Industry music video producer Brian Atkins filmed the ceremony and reception, creating a video for the song, which is published on YouTube. Joi and husband Isaiah are partners in love, business, and ministry; Isaiah serves as Joi’s manager. Today, the couple have two children and reside in San Diego.
A Personal Serenade to Thee (2003)
LIVE in L.A., Striving (2009)
Royal Renditions: Hymns & Spirituals (2015)
More Than Love (2019)