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How one American Airlines flight changed Daphne Willis’ life

Story goes, Charlize Theron was discovered in a bank, Harrison Ford while building bookshelves in Malibu and Will Smith while asking for directions in Hollywood. Daphne Willis, a buoyant singer-songwriter in the vein of Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz, boasts a similarly fortuitous origin story: She was discovered at 35,000 feet. Raised on a mix of Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald, the 23-year-old Chicago native began playing music as a child. In 2007, she recorded a few original compositions, which were licensed for in-flight airplay by American Airlines. That’s where Kevin Welk, CEO of Vanguard Records, pricked up his ears and took notice of the chanteuse. “It was her voice — pure and very soulful,” Welk says. “It doesn’t happen often, but I had to know who was singing those songs.” Within the year, Vanguard released Willis’ debut album, What to Say, to critical acclaim. Her follow-up, Because I Can, hit stores in April. “The serendipity is pretty incredible,” Willis says. “Being discovered on American Airlines was the break of my life.”