Jessi Zazu, whose band Those Darlins was at the forefront of the city's indie rock revival a decade ago, died on Tuesday following an extended battle with cancer. Zazu, whose legal name was Jessi Zazu Wariner, was 28.
Zazu died surrounded by family, friends and fellow musicians who lined the waiting room inside Centennial Hospital's intensive care unit.
"She maintained a sense of humor and a commanding presence up until and through her final moments," said Linwood Regensburg, who performed in Those Darlins with Zazu. "She was in the company of those who cared deeply about her and who she cared deeply about."
Zazu emerged on the local music scene as a teenager, joining Nikki Kvarnes and Kelley Anderson to form Those Darlins. The band's music spanned many genres, often sounding on early recordings like a punk rock version of the Carter Family.
Local music fans were captivated and the band began touring ferociously, multiplying its following across the nation. Those Darlins helped establish that the local music scene was more than just country.
Zazu, whose uncle is country musician Steve Wariner, was public about her battle with cancer. She documented her fight in cover story in the Nashvile Scene and turned her illness into inspiration for her visual art.
After Those Darlins broke up last year, Zazu focused on her art, including a show in June at the Julia Martin Gallery where work by Zazu and her mother Kathy Wariner was displayed.
Zazu designed t-shirts that said, "Ain't Afraid" in stark red letters. Sales from the shirts helped raise over $50,000 toward her medical bills.
Zazu's friends said she inspired people, especially young women, because of the courage she showed in confronting her illness.
"Jessi advocated for women," said Shelley DuBois, Zazu's friend and author of the Nashville Scene story that chronicled her art and battle with cancer. "She thought women deserve more respect than they get. That's why she was so open about her experience with cervical cancer. She wanted other women to know that they weren't alone, that they should listen to their bodies and speak up for themselves without shame if they knew something was wrong.