“I was really young when I left South Africa,” says Laura Reed, “but I had this vision that if I ever came back, I’d be singing for a huge crowd.”

Two decades later, Reed’s dream became a reality when she returned to the Sandton neighborhood of Johannesburg, where she grew up, and took the stage in front of 30,000 cheering music fans at the Joy of Jazz Festival. Reed was the special guest of harmonica icon Lee Oskar that night, and her star turn at the festival was an unforgettable highlight in a career that’s been chock full of them. Don’t let the fairytale moment fool you, though. Reed climbed her way to success from the ground up, building a devoted audience and earning high-profile fans through grit, determination, and relentless touring. She weathered tumultuous storms and embraced bold risks without ever sacrificing her artistic independence, betting on herself and her talent even when the odds seemed stacked against her. Now, on the eve of releasing her debut collection for Blue Rose Music, it’s clear that Laura Reed’s gamble is paying off.

Raised by a South African mother and an American father, Reed grew up listening to an eclectic mix of music from around the world. Her dad introduced her to Motown, blues, and country, while her mom shared Afropop and classic British rock. Stevie Wonder was a fixture in their home, as was the mysterious folksinger Rodriguez, who’d been all but forgotten in America while he was exalted as a legend in South Africa.

“My parents weren’t musicians, but they were writers,” says Reed. “They would tell me to pay attention to the lyrics, that the words could really make a song special.”

Reed relocated from Johannesburg to North Carolina while she was still just a child, but her family carried their culture and traditions (as well as their love of writing) with them wherever they went. At nine years old, Reed saw her first poem published in print, and at fourteen, she picked up her first guitar.

“I actually taught myself how to play on my own,” Reed explains. “At that age, I was always getting into trouble and being grounded, so I’d spend hours every day in my room just learning chords and deconstructing songs.”

Open mics and cover sets led to original recordings and homemade CDs, and before she’d even finished high school, it was clear what Reed was meant to do with the rest of her life. She took her singular blend of rock, blues, and funk on the road with her band, Deep Pocket, performing more than 200 pulse-pounding shows a year and making her own breaks along the way. George Clinton discovered Reed performing on the streets of New Orleans and was so taken that he brought her into the studio, while Lee Oskar found the versatile musician on YouTube and invited her to be an ambassador for his ubiquitous harmonica brand. Reed would go on to collaborate with everyone from Killer Mike and Robert Randolph to Karl Denson and Jewel, sing the national anthem at Madison Square Garden twice, and share bills with Mali Music, India.Arie, Miguel, Valerie June and Anthony Hamilton among others.