When Jill Scott burst into our consciousness in 2000, with her debut, Who Is Jill Scott?, she brought the skills of an old-school soul veteran and the instant familiarity of a longtime friend. By being true to the verities of African-American musical traditions—virtuoso vocal chops, raw funk, bluesy sass, thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics—the touring musical-theater pro made it clear she’s a qualified bearer of the flame.

When we caught up with Scott, who is a poet and former grade-school teacher’s aide, she was thinking about the difference between spiritual and political power, the power of fame to transform and deform lives, and the power of music to instruct, resurrect and redeem.

I think every individual has his or her own power, and it’s a matter of working, taking time and defining what that power is. Whether it’s speaking to children and having them listen to you, or getting information from folks who have wisdom beyond our years, or being able to bring music that touches the masses. Power doesn’t have to be on such a big scale for powerful things to occur. Within your own home, you can be a powerful woman as a mother, influencing your children’s lives. To be a queen of a household is a powerful thing.

When I first became famous, I didn’t know if I could go where I wanted to because I didn’t know how people were going to act. Some folks would scream and holler, and I didn’t know what to do with that. But now I’m like, “Okay, this is my life.” Now I go around my way, and I sit on my steps, and I dare someone to tell me I can’t.

You have to be humble when you’re dealing with God. If you feel powerful dealing with others, it’s because of your relationship with the Creator. What affects me the most when I perform is seeing the audiences laugh, hold their bellies or cry. It’s amazing—all ages, all races. And most of the time I’m laughing or crying with them. That’s when I feel the most powerful and humble at the same time.