Growing up in Detroit, Mich., a couple of houses down from Hitsville U.S.A.—Motown’s first headquarters, founded by Barry Gordy in 1959—probably had a pretty significant impact on BJ Griffin’s love of music. Even more impactful was the family heirloom violin that has been passed down for generations for more than a century. “Everybody in our family started off by playing the same violin,” Griffin says. “So I started on that, then in the sixth grade they made me switch to cello because nobody else could play it. I was upset at the time, but it kind of chose me.” He went on to study classical cello at James Madison University, as well as classical voice.
Even though his family moved to Virginia Beach when he was 4, Griffin returned to Michigan during the summers to teach at an arts camp for kids called the Interlochen Center for the Arts. He also spent a great deal of time in New York City because his aunt was a choreographer at Dancin On Broadway. However, it was during his time at Interlochen that he realized the direction his life would take. “I composed a piece for cello and voice and premiered it at a world event,” Griffin says. “At the time, I said to myself, ‘Oh my goodness. I think I can actually do this—both singing and playing cello.’ I was kind of conflicted between studying voice and studying cello because I thought I had to choose one or the other. But then I realized I could do both.”
After the summer he came to that realization, he returned to Coastal Virginia and reconnected with a friend from college, Jason Brown, a pianist and now Griffin’s business partner. They started playing open mics together and quickly realized they had a niche. It was something they could develop into a career. Soon after, they started writing music and scheduling gigs at bigger and better clubs as a duo and as a full band—the Galaxy Groove. They ended up at the NorVa in Norfolk about four years ago, and they’ve been growing ever since. Back in May 2016, they opened for Lauryn Hill at Portsmouth Pavilion.
“That was definitely a career highlight for me,” Griffin says. “Getting to play my original music for that many people. They received us really well, and I got a lot of great feedback about that.”
Part of what makes BJ Griffin’s music so unique is that they play both original music and cover songs in a variety of styles. “What we play is multi genre,” Griffin says. “Genre bending is what I call it.” They play pop, funk and soul, but they also throw in some jazz and classical music, too. “We’ll start off with something kind of pop-y, then all of a sudden we’ll do jazz, then we’ll throw some classical into it. By doing that, that one song touched the whole room, and at some point, everyone related to a certain part of the music. It brings them in and really captivates them. It’s funny because people always say to me, ‘I usually don’t like that style of music, but I really liked what you did, and I loved the way you did it.’ I feel so blessed that I have found this and continue to develop it.”
Photo by Jessa Gaul from Jpixx
In addition to writing and playing music, BJ and his partner have opened Galaxy Music in Hilltop, where they offer lessons in jazz and classical music. “We really strive to provide a good foundation in classical music because we believe that learning classical music is the foundation to playing any type of music. From there you can go anywhere,” Griffin says. “We do teach pop, and we expand into different things, but we emphasize a classical foundation, for sure.” The idea behind Galaxy Music is to foster a community of learning where people feel comfortable and have fun while relating music to the real world. To emphasize that, Griffin takes his students to nursing homes and other places to perform. “Music is a language that can transcend boundaries when it comes to demographics and geography,” Griffin explains. “I think music can be used as a tool to bring people together, so teaching that to kids at a young age is very important to me because the power is so strong and it can be used to do good things.”
Although he mainly teaches young people, Galaxy Music also has some adult students. “We teach kids as young as 2 and adults as old as 80,” Griffin notes. “It’s wonderful because anyone can learn—and that’s kind of our motto. If you want to, we will show you that you can, and we’ll show you how to do it.”
Even though Griffin now tours nationally and has performed internationally, he still calls Coastal Virginia home. “What I really love about this area is the eclectic melting pot of people here,” he says. “We have the military, which brings in a whole mix of people from different places. Then you have the different cities where the people never seem to stay in one place. Coastal Virginia always seems like home to me. It’s just such a wonderful place to come back to, no matter where we go.”