Sista Monica – Live your Life – Brave and Bold

Note to my blog readers – I write a majority of my blog posts when Mr. C is still sleeping – very early in the morning. They are written fast, prior to me beginning to work on various, creative projects for my upcoming boutique. These letters are in rough draft format.  Please be kind when reading them. I thought that I’d show the world a peek inside of the process of imperfection prior to something transcending into perfection. I would much rather start somewhere, correcting my mistakes as I go, than never starting because I’m fearful of showing the world my imperfections. The support of my readers encourages me to move forward upon my journey towards greatness and fulfilling my dreams. Thank you for supporting me.  For those of you who have followed my blog for numerous years, thanks for remaining with me as I continue to adventure onward on this journey called – Life.

 

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5/13/2016 –

 

Dear Henry,

As I’m recalling all of the great people who I have met and have greatly inspired my life, as well as living through some of my most frightening moments in my life, I am reminded of an amazingly, talented woman – the late, great, blues legend, Sista Monica – 1956-2014.

During this time in my life, when I wrote the Sista Monica reviews, I was very young – my thoughts were continuously lost in my own world, my feet dancing to the unique beat of my own music.  If I would’ve known more about Sista Monica’s history, which has made her a legend in blues music history, I would’ve been much more frightened than I already was, prior to interviewing her.  I had to walk boldly where very few souls have gone before, moving forward, courageously, one step at a time, to get through my interview with a woman of vast greatness and the intense power of a Lioness.

I recall being terrified, as I was being led to the green room to meet Sista Monica, after she performed so vivaciously on stage. My entire body trembled like a high strung, Chihuahua.  I can still feel the tightness and trembling in my throat as I interviewed a woman with a strong, fearless presence, and how my voice quavered with apprehension.  I could hardly swallow the remainder of spit in my mouth because my throat felt very dry from nervousness.

I wrote this music review after meeting a powerful woman who continues to greatly inspire my life.  It was the beginning of my career as a published writer and my marriage to Mr. C – RIP Sista Monica.

 

Sista Monica

Live Review – Famous Dave’s

November 24, 2000

Mia Jennings

 

The week prior to Sista Monica’s live performance at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square, Uptown Minneapolis. I had just finished writing a review about her newest CD,

“People Love The Blues.”

 

Instantly, I fell passionately in love with her rich, sultry vocals long before I observed her perform magic live on stage.  The day that I’d finished writing Sista Monica’s CD review – our furnace had broke, only weeks after our water well pump had broken. To fix each – cost over sixteen hundred dollars. Needless to say – I wasn’t feeling very grateful the week of Thanksgiving.  The only thing which helped soothe the pain was the sound of Sista Monica’s voice, which played on her CD repetitiously, while I cried the blues.

A ray of light emerged when I was asked to write a review for Sista Monica, after she played live at Famous Dave’s in Uptown, Minneapolis.  I was thrilled.  At this point, a little bit of gratitude began to warm my ice, cold heart.  By the time I walked through the doors of Calhoun Square, on that Friday night, the feeling of appreciation was all around me and I could hardly wait for the evening to begin.

Sista Monica opened strong wearing a leopard print garment to match her ferocious style, as well as her deep purrs and seductive growls.  On stage she vocalized her extreme energy, her amazing spirit, and even revealed the most vulnerable areas of her soul, to many cold, Minnesotans on this particular, autumn evening – warming our souls.  Sista Monica brought a bit of the Santa Cruz, California sun with her. She overwhelmed and captivated the audience with her passion. She was so hot that she could’ve left sparks on forgotten, rustic, train tracks.  Eventually, each one of her sweet, soulful notes made me forget all about my troubles. They vanquished into the night, like ghosts at dawn.

In between Sista Monica’s vocals I could hear her joyful soul in the echoes of her deep bellied laugh. She performed with great animation, instinctively knowing just how to involve the crowd.  Her passion was exposed to all who watched her on stage and indulged their ears and soul with her music. Sista Monica’s a storyteller, informing her audience about her roots, her Mama, and her mother’s crock pot.  She sang, “Mama whatcha cookin’ in the crock pot?”  Mama says, “she’s cookin’ soul food.” Sista Monica vocalizes, “Good, because I don’t like Tofu!”  I don’t blame her, bleh.

Sista Monica sings with passion and sweat dripping down her face.

“Soul is just soul, it’s a feeling in your bones.”

That’s precisely where her music hits too – deep in the soul.  So deep you feel a good kind of ache in your bones.  Her music is sometimes the roots of the blues, sometimes the roots of Gospel, sometimes the roots of funk, and many times quite a bit of all each.  Sista Monica even had the ability to put tears in my eyes when she sang beautifully and passionately in acapella.  Her sleek, sad yet triumphant voice – wrapping her musical notes in a soft, velvet melody, richly bellowing out the words to, “Amazing Grace,” in remembrance of her past tenor/saxophone player, Ken Baker.  Her heartaches reached out, grabbing me with intense emotion – often stopping my heart – leaving me breathless.

This Blues Lioness drew in a great crowd, on this particular night, as well as a couple of well-known musicians.  Chubby Carrier was in the house enjoying the show, as well as The Steele family, who joined her up on stage towards the end of the evening, entwining their spectacular vocals together to make a memorable moment in music history.  To remind me that I shouldn’t worry and be happy, Bobby Mc Ferrin graced the room with his presence. I wasn’t supposed to make a big deal out of it, but since the shows over, I can let the cat out of the bag.

(I was unaware at this time that they were most likely other great Minnesota musicians in the house at Famous Dave’s on that evening in Uptown, Minneapolis – possible musicians such as… Jamecia Bennet – The members of the Sounds of Blackness – Ann Nessby – Paris Bennet – Toki Wright – Cynthia Johnson -) I didn’t learn of their greatness until I began creating the art work for the Minnesota Black Music Awards 2010 and 2011. )

The buzzing energy at Famous Dave’s was intense!  The service was wonderful.  Ron Healey, the head of security was an absolute angel, and Pat Nelson was very accommodating.  By the end of the night, I had my opportunity to interview – Sista Monica.  Her presence was warm, and so was her hand, which she shook with mine.  Because I’d just written a CD review on her, and had done quite a bit of research on Sista Monica’s roots, I didn’t want to ask the basic questions that I already knew the answers to, and waste her time, as well as mine.

(To be honest, Henry – Sister Monica’s indomitable force and strong presence scared the Mother Fucking shit out of me, much like riding the Big Shot Ride at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas). I could tell that the evening’s performance had taken quite a bit of energy out of this blues legend.  So I proceeded to tell her about how ungrateful I’d felt during the week, feeling blue about my furnace and water pump at home had broken.  I told her how her music on her CD eased me through my difficulties in life.  I told her how she’s touched me with her music that evening. I thanked her graciously.) 

The main question that I asked Sista Monica was, “How does it feel to know that you’re touching so many people with your art, and making a difference in so many lives?

Sista Monica’s response – “That’s the whole purpose of performing – touching others and making a difference.  When my band and I go out on the road, we never know who we’re going to meet, who we’re going to make a contribution to, but we always hope and pray that somebody out in the audience will enjoy the music, get a message out of it, listen to the music beyond just the groove, and get into the lyrics and what we’re saying.  When I write the songs I write from my own experiences, and I hope someone else can go through a process while listening to it.”

I don’t know how many other people who listened to her music beyond the groove and felt what I did after her performance on stage.  I don’t know how many people went home with a grin on their face as large as mine, and new hope ignited in their souls.  But I do know that this magnificent, blues legend – Sista Monica’s purpose – being a singer/songwriter – was met when I listened and witnessed her perform on stage at Famous Dave’s in Uptown Minneapolis.  Every one of her delicious notes and atoms of vibrant energy hit me deep inside with immeasurable intensity.  Her music, soul, as well as lyrics had the ability to move me beyond the grim and into the light.  Thanks Sista Monica for such a fantastic evening.  It’ll be a memory I won’t forget!

If you want to learn more about Sista Monica, check out her web site at http://www.sistamonica.com.  If you want to pick up her CD, “People Love The Blues,” you can purchase it at any Best Buy store, or Bestbuy.com, CDNow.com, as well as Amazon.com.

I was an extremely young – fresh as a published writer. I had never interviewed anyone until I met with Sista Monica, after her heart stopping performance.  I had walked forward with blind courage into a realm where people of greatness reside. Until this unexpected chapter in my life, I’d only written poetry. Soon after I met the highly, talented, Minneapolis musician, Ross William Perry, I began writing music reviews for the TwinCitiesbluesnews.com.  It was this young man with amazing talent, who encouraged to begin my life as a published writer, writing for the Twin Cities Blues News.

My great cousin, who is very special to me, is paralyzed from the neck down.  He has always had a great passion for blues music, ever since I can recall.  He plays harmonica just like my older brother.  I’ve listened to stories being told about how he has played his harmonica with some of the great blues musicians in Minneapolis.  I didn’t have an education in music.  I learned a little about music history when I was in choir – my junior and high school years.  When I began writing for the Twincitiesbluesnews.com – I didn’t know much about the history of blues music.  I only knew about poetry.  I felt that music and poetry have much in common.  Each took the pain in life, transcending it into something golden and timeless.  I didn’t spend my time researching the depths and the history of blues music, each genre, or the richness of where our music today got their roots.  I could only relate to the pain it took to create something timeless with words and rhythm.

I felt out of my league when I entered the green room at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square, Minneapolis, where Sista Monica was wiping the large, beads of dripping, salty, sweat from her exhausted face.  I sensed that she was on guard – and that she really wasn’t up for dealing with an interview from the media.  I didn’t blame her. I wanted to run, or stand there shaking in my shoes, speechless – peeing my panties like a small dog in fear.  This legacy, who has entertained millions all over the world, including ex-President – Bill Clinton, was staring at me as if to say, “If you start asking me stupid questions, I’m gonna beat you with the last bit of energy I have.”

I had just experienced the worst week ever.  I knew that if I could brave through a domestic nightmare, I could move forward, completing this interview.  My body melted into Mia Mush when Sista signed the cover of the CD which I had listened to, repetitively, time and time again, when our interview was complete.

It was Sista Monica’s music and her voice which comforted me, as I cleaned up ankle deep, water filled with shit in my bathroom, due to a broken sub pump, crying with frustration.  I listened to her CD relentless, as Mr. C and I did whatever we could to come up with enough money to fix our furnace.  I knew that I had to find the courage within me to finish this interview.  This was my one and only chance.  I knew that I had to ask this woman of greatness something that other interviewers might never ask.

I haven’t read this interview in over a decade. I was embarrassed to look at it, because it wasn’t written like other music reviewers have done. I felt ashamed that I didn’t know much about the music scene.  I wrote what was in my heart and gut. I didn’t know if Sista Monica’s music was the Delta Blues or the Chicago Blues, at this early age in my life.  All that I knew was that I loved her music, and that it greatly inspired me. I had reviewed numerous CD’s from blues musicians from all over the world before I received Sista Monica’s CD, People Love the Blues.  Her music was what I’d been craving for. It was the reason I was inspired to write reviews for blues musicians.  It hit in my soul, filling my darkness and vanquishing despair.  Her music was so rich and deep, like expensive, Swiss Chocolate melting on my tongue – savoring it as such – note by delectable note.

This morning, after re-reading the interview I wrote for Sista Monica, so long ago, I’m glad that I found the courage inside of me to ask this past, blues legend, who has shared the stage with numerous greats like Etta James and Koko Taylor – one of the most important questions I could ask – I will repeat it because I feel it is important.

“How does it feel to know that you’re touching so many people with your art, and making a difference in so many lives? 

Sista Monica’s response – “That’s the whole purpose of performing – touching others and making a difference. When my band and I go out on the road, we never know who we’re going to meet, who we’re going to make a contribution to, but we always hope and pray that somebody out in the audience will enjoy the music, get a message out of it, listen to the music beyond just the groove, and get into the lyrics and what we’re saying.  When I write the songs I write from my own experiences, and I hope someone else can go through a process while listening to it.”

 

Sista Monica’s words lit my dreams to become a better writer and successful artist, like an Olympic torch.  Unfortunately, this blues lioness is no longer with us on this plane of existence. Her memory remains vividly inside of her my mind – her words remaining to resonate deep in my soul. She died in 2014, from Lung Cancer – Synovial Cell Sarcoma – the same type of cancer my stepson was diagnosed with, years ago and is now in remission.

My next paragraph’s difficult to write, because once I do, I have to hold myself accountable.  It’s been difficult to smoke a cigarette, ever since I did a Google Search – Sista Monica – learning of her death.  It’s been an interesting 24 hours for me.  I’ve been working my way towards quitting for numerous months – it’s time that I take the jump – quitting this horrible habit of mine – for good.  I’ve done it once before – I can do it again!

I’m unsure of which road I will travel upon when I get to the fork in my main road, with the signs nearby reading, Smoke or Don’t Smoke – guiding me onward during my journey in life – my direction remaining my choice.

I’m uncertain if Sista Monica would’ve liked me when she was alive, because of her Gospel roots and deep passion for God.  Numerous people who believe in religion don’t really care for me.  I’m okay with this. I am also a big enough person to realize that deep beneath our differences, we are all the same. We realize this once we as humans, move beyond our fears and differences, and find something to converse about on common ground.  Do our fears keep us from being united – especially if we come from two, entirely different view points from such strong individuals?  I would like to think not.

Near the end of this chapter in my life – writing music reviews for blues musicians from all over the world, I experienced an incredible opportunity. Throughout my career as a music reviewer, I never really comprehended the importance in the words I wrote.  I felt like my reviews didn’t measure up with other music reviewers and other highly established, blues magazines.  I wasn’t as knowledgeable about the blues music scene as others. I wrote how the music made me feel deep inside – not about historic facts or musical terms and genres which I didn’t understand.  When I was faded from this chapter in my life, moving towards another, new chapter in my life  – Go – Go dancing at Ground Zero Nightclub in NE Minneapolis – an important publicists from Martin Scorsese’s office contacted me via email, asking me to review Scorsese’s documentary on the history of blues. Soon after, I receive a PR packet and a stack of videos in my snail mail.  I had the opportunity to watch several, but not all, of them, prior to airing on PBS in the palm of my hands.  I felt like the luckiest woman alive!

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I might not have written my music reviews in a conventional way.  I may not have used the correct terms, grammar, or proper language when my series of music reviews were published at Twincitiesbluesnews.com – but, I must have done something right in order to receive the opportunity of a lifetime.  I never wanted to read the pages I wrote, when I was at the beginning of my career, cringing at my errors.  I felt ashamed of my beginnings. I wanted to leave them and my past far behind, like a hitchhiker with a creepy disposition, along the side of desolate highway.  Presently, I look behind me for awhile, at all of the metaphorical miles I have adventured upon – the twisting roads, hills, rugged mountains, flat terrains and deep valleys.  I smile, appreciating the beginning of my journey, and all of the fabulous people who I have met along my way, much like the little girl from Kansas, Dorothy, in the story book by Frank S. Baum – The Wizard of OZ.  I feel an intense rush of warmth thinking about the individuals who have offered me wisdom, insight, their time and intelligence,  shared their stories about courage and adversity, their compassion, guidance, generosity, and most of all the courage to live my life being the person that I am – the person that I’ve always been – Me.

To me, Sista Monica was like a brave, yet compassionate lioness.  As I type this letter to you, Henry, I can hear her singing the blues, her voluptuous body appearing in a thin, opalescent vapor ( FYI – I don’t really see this – don’t fill my blog comment box up with how you see ghosts).  Sista Monica bellows out rich, musical notes with a maternal scold on her face –

“Put that smoke out – I see you – uh huh – don’t pout

If I was alive I’d swipe that cig from yer lips

As fast as my hands moved from my earth shaking hips

You don’t wanna mess with this Lioness – uh huh – that’s right

I’ll sing to your soul –  All day and all night

I’ll sing ‘til you can’t stand no more

When you’re up late at night – pacing the floor

Be true to your words – follow them in what you do

Live your life bold – don’t sing the – I can’t win blues

Stay young in the heart – don’t let it grow cold

Live life out loud – live it bravely  and bold

Or I’ll sing to your soul at twilight, dawn and in the hot afternoons

Don’t mess with this mama  – don’t mess with this mama – don’t mess with this Mama blues.  

My brother recently moved to Chicago where Sista Monica’s roots are as a blues musician. I believe that she’s originally from Evansville, Indiana (please don’t kill me if I am wrong about this). – I’m looking forward to getting to adventure and eat my way through the heart of Chicago. My older brother’s a passionate, harmonica player.  Some may have heard him at Grateful Dead type festivals.  I think I recall my bro telling me that he’s learning much more on his harmonica from some of Chicago’s finest musicians.  I love his new girlfriend, who he recently moved in with. I hope to see him perform on stage in Chicago in the near future.  I’m my brother’s biggest fan.

I wish that I was a restaurant reviewer or food critic – so I could afford to eat at the wonderful restaurants in Chicago – upscale to low scale – except Mc Donald’s.  I’m dreaming of dining at Chef Graham Elliot’s Bistro – even if I have to save for a year to afford it.  I enjoyed watching Master Chef and Master Chef Junior (My favorite)- and viewing the culinary world through Chef Graham Elliot’s artistic glasses, when I was feeling the most ill from my hyper-thyroid condition. I wanted to eat anything that wasn’t glued into my fridge and cupboards. I think Chef Gordon Ramsey and I would get along well.  Can you image the interview, Henry –

I’m ending this letter, Henry – I am excited to start working on the Picasso Project.

Bisous, Mon Amour,

Mia

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