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Once a festival-goer, Paula Campbell is now a headliner

Paula Campbell seldom resists the opportunity to lift her voice in song. The R&B; soloist from Baltimore recently followed a one-hour set at a D.C. lounge with an impromptu, keeping-it-real performance backstage.

The latter performance came while she was getting her hair done.

"At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do," said Campbell, who is among several local recording artists who will be performing at this weekend's African American Heritage Festival. The family- oriented celebration of African-American history, culture and arts is in its ninth year.

Campbell will be performing on the festival's Main Stage at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Also appearing that evening are recording artists Ryan Leslie and Robin Thicke.

"I went to the festival coming up, and I've been going the past few years," said Campbell, who performed at the festival a few years ago. "The food, the clothing … it's an amazing thing to be a part of."

Her festival appearance and other performances help to make Campbell a mainstay in an R&B; music landscape inundated with female vocalists. Efforts such as her impromptu backstage session — which can be seen on YouTube — mean added exposure for the hard-working artist who says she relishes reaching out to listeners in both conventional and unusual ways.

"At the end of the day, we [artists] have to give of ourselves; our fans want to see us, know us and understand us," said Campbell, who has made a name for herself in R&B;, soul and hip-hop circles after faring well in local music competitions.

She has opened for such artists as Kanye West, T.I. and Rihanna, and a remix of her popular single, "Denial," features pop and R&B; artist Ne-Yo.

Recently, she completed a 20-chapter memoir, whose topics include the joys and trials of juggling a career and motherhood. She launched her own record company two years ago and is scheduled to release an album in the fall on the label that will include her newly released single, "Just A Man."

Campbell speaks candidly about her often turbulent upbringing, and how Baltimore's mean streets toughened her for the music business. She said she hopes her story inspires other young artists.

"For me, it's about giving back," she added. "I feel fortunate and blessed."

joe.burris@baltsun.com

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