Spartanburg native Jo Kokri-Bhatt has offered private youth piano lessons since she founded Homeworks Studio in 2010 | Photos by Ruta Smith

Accomplished multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and music instructor Jo Kokri-Bhatt has more on her mind than teaching and performing. The musician set her sights on changing Charleston’s music scene, providing support for budding artists and altering the preconceptions of what it means to be a full-time musician.

“I’m looking to create more stability in the area,” Kokri-Bhatt said. The sort of security she wants to foster has been hard to come by in her own life, she said. While her parents put her through piano lessons as a child, when she shared her dream of pursuing the instrument full-time, they hoped she’d choose a more practical career.

“I knew that I wanted to be a professional pianist. And my dad told me to be realistic,” Kokri-Bhatt said, laughing. The response didn’t deter her. “I really knew from age 6 that I wanted to do this.”

Kokri-Bhatt is also a gifted clarinet player and vocalist. She founded Homeworks Studio in 2010, through which she offers private piano lessons for all ages. After relocating to Charleston from her hometown of Spartanburg in 2016, Kokri-Bhatt got involved with local gospel group The Plantation Singers. She also performed with the party band Bliss and the gospel ensemble Inspiration.

“I really like the fact that I’m in both worlds,” she said of being a teacher and a performer. “There are pros and cons to both, but they complement one another really well because my students can come see me perform. And I can get students from my performances and sort of educate the public a little bit more about the piano and voice and music in general — not just instrumentally, but how music is a vehicle to heal and to enact change.”

Through both her personal and professional life, Kokri-Bhatt hopes to alter the public’s notions of what being a musician looks like and improve how they are treated in the industry. “[Some presumptions are] that we don’t know our worth and we’re willing to play for less, and we’re willing to take bar tabs as part of our payment, or that we’re just disposable and can [be] cut with no explanation,” she said.

“It’s pretty standard procedure. There’s not a lot of respect,” she said. “Especially for female musicians and musicians of color. So I’ve got both of those things absolutely against me.”

In order to combat these biases, Kokri-Bhatt teaches all of her students to never accept less than they deserve and does the same for herself when negotiating contracts or proposals.

 To her, music means “just about everything,” and pursuing her passion full-time has meant grappling with self-worth.

“It’s been as much of an inward journey as an outward journey through therapies and different processes to really accept myself for who I am and to celebrate that and to know the value of that and not to diminish it for anyone or anything.”

It’s a secret she shares with all of her students: “If you feel good about yourself, you have a tendency to ask for more.”

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