BRIANNA CASH grew up on 3rd Street near Roosevelt Boulevard, and although her soulful songs might someday carry her far from North Philly, her old Feltonville neighborhood will always feel like home.
"You know that big three-story house on the corner that looks haunted?" the 22-year-old singer/songwriter said, laughing.
"It's the huge house across the street from the corner store that's sometimes yellow, sometimes green, and I remember it being red once, too," Cash said. "I grew up in that house. It's not haunted. I'm not haunted."
But her songs are haunted by memories of lost loves and lost loved ones.
"I've had a rough life," Cash said. "My parents separated when I was young. My biological father was not in my life."
When Cash was 17, her older brother passed away from leukemia. Three years ago, her younger brother, who was an epileptic, died at 13 after having a seizure in the shower, hitting his head and drowning.
"I tried to keep it together," Cash said. "It was hard, seeing my mom go through all that. I was trying to be the strong one in the family. But you never get over that kind of stuff."
Her achingly soulful songs, which call to mind a young Rickie Lee Jones, deal with love and loss in such universal terms that they could be about a boyfriend or a brother, but they are definitely about raw emotion.
Cash reached out to the public by putting her songs on SoundCloud.com.
"Random people email me," she said. "They're like, 'I'm going through a breakup and this made me feel better' and 'Oh, my gosh, that song got to me.' It gives me reassurance that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
She didn't feel that way in fourth grade when her mother made her take piano lessons.
"Instead of hanging on the corner or the basketball court, I'm in the house, learning music theory," Cash said, "which I didn't like because that stuff is hard work and I just wanted to sing.
"My piano teacher's Puerto Rican like me," Cash said, "so one day I'm telling her I want to sing like Jennifer Lopez. And she's like, 'You'll never sing like Jennifer Lopez.' And I'm like, 'What?' "
Cash was devastated. "I actually had the black hoodie with the silver 'J. Lo' writing and, like, the dot over the 'J' was a rhinestone," she said. "I was a heavy J. Lo fan."
Flash forward to 2013 when Cash, accompanying herself on piano, recorded an EP in her North Philly home studio, then emailed it to music blogs, tweeted it, posted it, shared it on Facebook and Instagram and SoundCloud.
Philly rapper Chill Moody liked what he heard and chose Cash to open for R&B singer Bridget Kelly at Union Transfer.
"There was a big hip-hop audience," Cash said. "I didn't really fit in but they just accepted me, I think, because people were like, 'OK, if Chill rocks with it, we rock with it.' I love him to this day."
That exposure brought Cash to the attention of Sean "Diddy" Combs' Revolt TV cable network, which filmed her singing at Theatre of Living Arts for a "Revolt Nation" movie, due out in 2015, which led to her opening for singer/songwriter Marsha Ambrosius at TLA.
Cash also rocked the Questlove Stage at Wawa Welcome America! last summer with the Philly soul band, iLL Fated Natives.
"My mom didn't understand what I was doing until she Googled me," Cash said. "Then, when she went to TLA and saw people singing along with me, she's like, 'Whoa! I guess those piano lessons came in handy, huh?' And I'm like, 'I guess so.'
"I always wanted my mom to be proud of me," Cash said. "She is. It's a really good feeling."