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Keli Nicole: Local artist brings her sound to The Roper on Saturday

She sang backup to Missy Elliott as a teen, walked the red carpet at the Grammy Awards, and on Saturday, Keli Nicole will bring her soulful sound to the Roper Center for the Performing Arts for a 7 p.m. concert. The event, titled “Blaze the Stage,” is sponsored by Student African American Brotherhood, a Tidewater Community College organization dedicated to empowering young men of all ethnicities to excel in higher education by surrounding them in a positive, productive atmosphere.

Keli Nicole, a 1996 Indian River High School graduate, planned for a more traditional life until Elliott called her dorm room at Elizabeth City State. The two had met years before with Elliott promising she’d be back for the young singer when she pulled off her first music deal.

“Are you ready to work?” Elliott asked.

Keli Nicole packed up her dorm room and left with Elliott the next day, stunning her parents.

“I dropped everything, and of course, my family was not happy until they saw the first check,” Keli Nicole says with a laugh. “It was for $30,000, just for singing backup, and I was 17.”

From there Keli Nicole climbed a ladder she hadn’t known existed, building relationships in the entertainment industry and taking advantage of every opportunity presented to her. One of them was to be part of a songwriter’s camp with eight others. All of them were holed up in a New Jersey house for a month.

“We lived in the studio,” she says. “There were bedrooms upstairs. We worked for 30 days straight. All we did was write songs.”

Six months later, Beyonce’s “Déjà Vu” was playing on the radio – co-written by Keli Nicole. The song went on to win a 2007 Grammy with Keli Nicole in attendance.

“I got to put on the dress and heels and walk the red carpet,” she says. “It was an experience I’ll never forget.”

The Grammy took her career to another level, allowing her to work with Destiny’s Child, Will Smith, Lil Mo, Total, Timberland, Angie Stone and Michelle Williams. She has also written for commercials and appeared in a film to be released on DVD later this year.

Continuing her education also became a priority, and Keli Nicole is grateful for TCC’s role in that. She vividly recalls sitting with her grandmother and filling out the paperwork for the college. The day after her grandmother died, Jan. 12, 2011, Keli Nicole took her initial class at TCC.

“I promised her I would follow through with it,” says Keli Nicole, who has since enrolled online at Full Sail University. “I took humanities and history classes. TCC gave me the experience I didn’t have my first time in college. I didn’t know I was interested in so many things.”

She looks forward to performing at the Roper on Saturday, the same night she will release her new album “Live Free,” via a free download on her website,

“I love the idea of sharing my ideas, my songs,” she says. “It feels good to interpret my songs the way they were intended to be interpreted.”

Tickets for Keli Nicole’s concert are $10 and can be purchased at the Virginia Beach Campus, Lynnhaven Building, Room E-113. Doors open at 6 p.m.; seating is limited. For information, call (757) 822-7172.