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Let's Talk About It: First things first, an introduction

I love music and I prove it every time I take the stage, every time I take the opportunity to use my vocal talent to uplift someone.

LaSonya Natividad
LaSonya Natividad.
Contributed / Jonathan Robinson

Greetings, inquisitive readers. My name is LaSonya Natividad. Very nice to make your acquaintance. I am the new kid on the block presenting content for Rochester In Color.

I would like to talk about a few things on my mind so that we can get to know each other better in this and other pieces titled "Let’s Talk About It." I plan to speak on various topics in the coming months that are important to me, my community and world as seen through these brown eyes.

The holiday season is upon us and is often a time of reflection which I believe is necessary for personal and professional growth. Reflection can place life’s ups and downs in perspective. Let’s talk about how I got started in the music scene here in Rochester, Minnesota, and where this journey has taken me.

The day was Dec. 15, 2012. The place was Canadian Honker with a start time of 7 p.m. What was I to expect? I look around the room and notice the place is packed. I cannot believe all my friends and family came out to see me; but I also see some unfamiliar faces. Filled with uncertainty, I open up my mouth, heart, body, spirit and let go.

This day in history was the first time I performed live jazz with a trio in Rochester. This moment was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with these new-to-me musicians, Mike King and Mike Sloane. I sang my soul out that night. Jazz standards and Christmas songs, 'tis the season. I was very nervous because up to this point, I had only sung a maximum of two songs as a solo act outside of church or charity events since establishing myself here Jan. 8, 2003.

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Back Story…

I was born and raised in small-town Louisiana. My music life started around age 3, at which time I was introduced to Mrs. Diana Ross singing “Upside Down.” I was lying at the foot of the bed with my younger brother in Washington, D.C., since we lived in a motel room. My soul was moved.

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My family moved back to Tallulah, Louisiana, when I was about 5 years old, at which time I was introduced to the soul and blues music of ... Betty Wright, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Blue Bland, Etta James, Johnny Taylor, Bobby Rush, Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, just to name a few. We had family parties at our house almost every weekend (grandaddy Johnny, Uncle Jimmy, TT Gloria, Auntie Mary with her boyfriend Mr. Amos and Mama’s guy, Mr. Robert).

I sang in church for the first time at about age 7. First solo was third grade, "Star Spangled Banner" at the sixth grade commencement ceremony. First high school solo with the Tallulah High School Marching Band, "Something in my Heart" by Michele’ in ninth grade.

The first time I was exposed to jazz was watching "The Cosby Show." The tune: "In a Sentimental Mood" by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. In the '90s, R&B was ruling the airways on WJMI and 100.1 the Beat, my local radio stations. I went to high school rallies in girl’s voice where I won small scholarships to LSU (Louisiana State University) for my superior ratings in 10th through 12th grades. I participated in local talent competitions and community choirs. Music was deep-seated in my life.

LaSonya Natividad with Soul Train
LaSonya Natividad performs with The Soul Train for Halloween 2021.
Contributed / Kate Klaus Photography

Back to this day in history… I later joined the already established jazz and swing band 2 o’clock Jump as the lady vocalist and became a regular at Canadian Honker, performing for events around Mayo Clinic’s campus and private parties. The next year I was asked to sing at a Juneteenth festival, where I got a few musician friends together to make it happen. The pastor of the church where I grew up would always say, “In order to get friends, you must first show yourself friendly,” to which I can attest. The leader of the former band KnuFunk, Doug Porter, was at this festival and gave me a shoulder tap through his daughter to revive Knufunk, formerly headed by three other local female African American vocalists, one of which was Annie Mack.

So here I am, now in two bands which can be challenging with rehearsal time just starting out. KnuFunk and I played at a few area functions including Thursdays on First and at bars. I was the leading lady singer and worked with a rotation of male singers over the years. We found it challenging to find male vocalists to sing this genre of music well. There were ups and downs as I learned to be commonplace when working with bands. I was naive about this. I have learned that all life’s interactions are opportunities for growth.

LaSonya Natividad performs with Soul Train
LaSonya Natividad performs with The Soul Train for Halloween 2021.
Contributed / Kate Klaus Photography

About four years into my tenure with KnuFunk, I decided to “make myself friendly” to the music community. I felt that we were a good band, full of talented folks but were not receiving opportunities to perform. We stood out from all other music performers in town since we were almost entirely made up of African Americans. There were no other bands in town covering the music that we performed (the Gap band, Con Funk Shun, Earth Wind and Fire, Jill Scott, India Arie). The band even created an EP of originals. What was the problem? Things that make you go hmmmm.

As I got out amongst other musical talent in town, I found there were a few issues. The opportunities for the larger bands were almost nonexistent due to capacity and the areas where we could play were just not choosing us to perform. I was on a mission to change that. One of the mottoes I live by is to, as much as possible, take the opportunities to change your current situation if you are not happy with it. I found myself in conversations with local musicians here and there to voice my concerns. The world began changing around me due to current events in the late 20-teens, as did opportunities.

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Now, I cannot claim that ONLY race played a role in the lack of opportunities, but it sure felt that way since we were a silo. But fast forward to 2018 until now: I was presented with opportunities to record original music with house music DJ Tony Fuel, pay tribute to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin with Incognito, establish my own soul band (The Soul Train), play street music with the Jazz band changing the name to the Madison Parish Ensemble, grace the cover of the 507 Magazine a few times, be interviewed by folks on the job regarding music, share inspirational songs with my colleagues during the worst time of our lifetime, present music for on-stage theater, sing at national work conferences, weddings, restaurants, outdoor festivals, be featured in magazines and TV shows as well gain a host of new friends.

What is the moral of this discussion? I did not let my perceived barrier of breaking into the music scene stop me from giving my all and remaining authentic — without disparaging anyone along the way. My grandfather use to say, "It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Anything worth having in life requires sacrifice and will not come easy.” I love music and I prove it every time I showed up to a show in support of an acquaintance or friend, each time I said "Yes, I will sing for your event," and each time I take the opportunity to use my vocal talent to uplift someone.

What does my future entail with music here in Rochester? I can’t say for certain. What I do know is I will continue to give it my all, learn more, do more and show myself friendly. This is who I am and what I'm about. Join me and Let’s Talk About It.

LaSonya Natividad is a musician and health care professional in Rochester. Send comments on columns to jpieters@postbulletin.com .

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