Miami's Josephine Phoenix Is a Certified Triple Threat

Inside Puroast Coffee, the new coffee shop next to the now tragically defunct Tobacco Road, there's a stream of curly red hair bouncing at the bar. Even with her back turned, you can’t walk into a room and miss Josephine Phoenix

With a copy of Anjelica Huston’s memoir, Watch Me, resting on the table beside her, she's ready to begin the interview. 

Phoenix beams about the long-awaited release of her new single, “As Long As You’re Home,” recorded with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. It went live on iTunes and Google Play on May 25.

“It was co-written by this guy named Rayko Redwolff. He’s a genius,” she says. “We wrote it last year. I’m very much a singer-songwriter and it’s my most pop kind of song.”

The new single is an acoustic, guitar-driven pop/rock song about “those relationships where you give it like 14 tries — maybe 16. Then it’s the holidays and you wait to break up with them and then it’s New Year’s and you can’t break up with them yet. People have these spats all the time, but if they feel like home to you, you’re just going to cement yourself there because there’s nothing like home."

Puroast — where Phoenix also works part time as a barista — was packed last Thursday night as she played the song at her single release show.

Walking into the coffee shop on any other day, you might see Phoenix behind the bar in what she calls her “Clark Kent clothes” rather than the plunging, low-cut, black catsuit she wore at Thursday’s show. This contrast is reflective of the multiple personalities that inhabit her tiny frame.

Born the only child of a musician couple from Cuba, she bounced back and forth between Miami and New York throughout her life. The moves continued into high school, where she attended three schools in four years. “So I always just say I’m from New York and Miami.”

This constant flux has molded Phoenix into a self-described gypsy who can hiss on a bluesy duet cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” in one breath, follow that with an on-the-spot cover of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” without missing a word, and finish the show with a sincere acoustic ballad like “As Long As You’re Home” — all while flexing her comedic muscle during stage banter in between songs. Her comedy can sometimes go a bit blue. Last year she was banned from a Miami venue she won’t name because the staff disapproved of her salty language.

She calls this comedian side of herself “Pepa.” It emerges during her gigs as a morning show co-host at 94.9 Mega (WMGE-FM) and on local sketch comedy shows El Vacilon and La Boca Loca de Paul, and even randomly in conversation.
“There’s a duality between my New York and Miami selves. [My Miami self] is salsera, diversion, y libertad! New York is: This is what I stand up for. I’m a vegetarian and [I support] women's rights and I go after my dreams.”

The Miami salsera side of Phoenix emerges when she overemphasizes her Cuban accent and exaggerates the rolling of her Rs. She does this frequently in conversation, particularly when she tells the story of her first gig she ever booked as a cruise ship singer on the Mediterranean for eight months at the age of nineteen. She credits this success to, of all people, Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado. “Cancer!” she says as she imitates Mercado’s signature hand movements.

She followed Mercado’s New Year’s horoscope advice and wrote out a list of aspirations she hoped to achieve in the following year. “One was to go to Spain, ‘cause I always felt very Spaniard, gypsy y gitana. Another thing that I wrote was that I want to get paid doing what I love, which is singing. Five of the things that I put down all came true,” with both of the aforementioned happening during her eight months at sea. “I’ll always be like, Walter Mercado’s legit!”

Since her time at sea, Phoenix has toured as a backup singer with internationally recognized acts like Ricardo Montaner, Yotuel from Orishas during a solo tour in Mexico and Puerto Rico, and Beatriz Luengo.

Josephine Phoenix hopes her public profile will surge this fall when she stars in WE tv’s new reality show, My Life is a Telenovela, alongside telenovela stars Raquenel, Sissi Fleitas, Gustavo Pedraza, Enrique Sapene, and Liliana Rodriguez. The series is an inside look at the lives of famous telenovela actors set in Miami and will be the first reality show broadcast in English featuring an all Latino cast.

Phoenix is technically not a telenovela actress, but she has acted in and continues to audition for theater productions in Miami and New York City. “I’m the outsider. I’m the only one that isn’t famous on the show," she says. "Everyone else is uber-famous.”

Phoenix already has a good idea of where she'll fit in with the cast. “I’m the weird girl hugging trees, because I’m that naive, and that’s not an act. I’m all about female empowerment and lifting each other up. I’m the one that’s optimistic and young, looking at everything through rose-colored glasses.” It’s worth noting that when I met her for the first time, she was wearing a bohemian frock and actual rose-colored glasses. 
Her forthcoming album, fittingly titled Almost, But… will arrive sometime after My Life is a Telenovela has aired. “It’s going to be called Almost, But… because I’m almost about to give up but… I almost break up with you but… ”

It’s yet to be seen just how bright Phoenix’s star will shine, but there’s one thing the world-touring gypsy, singer, and actress repeatedly mentions as a bucket list aspiration: going to college.

Her dad, now a waiter, and her mom, now retired, were successful artists in their own right in their earlier lives. “They toured Japan; my dad played Carnegie Hall; my mom dated Julio Iglesias,” she explains. They actually discouraged Phoenix from attending college to study journalism and encouraged her to follow an artistic career instead.

“I get really nostalgic and teary-eyed because I always wanted to go to college. I love making people laugh and entertaining, but I love this other side of me that really wanted these heated debates on political science and the feminine divine and I didn't get that.”

While she did not follow the traditional route, she’s found an artistic outlet to satiate that longing. “That's why I'm an actress, too. Musicians are awesome, but actors are conversationalists, readers, and debaters. That's why I gravitate toward the acting world, because I can have these conversations.”

As someone with a hand in so many different pots, one has to wonder what exactly “making it” would look like to Phoenix. "It’s such a superficial thing to think about: fame,” she reflects. “When you say you want to be famous, you want to be able to not worry about your family. I want to be able to give vacations to people that never had a vacation.”

Whether that success comes through Almost, But…, My Life Is a Telenovela, or a future acting role, Josephine Phoenix says, “Anything that I try to do is on the basis of feeling free.”

And to that freedom, much like her mythical namesake, this Phoenix also rises. 
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Celia Almeida is the digital editor of American Way and the former arts and music editor of Miami New Times. Her writing has been featured in Venice, Paper, and Billboard; and she co-hosts Too Much Love on Jolt Radio.
Contact: Celia Almeida