Juanita Brooks, Music Phenomenon

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Whether via gospel, blues, traditional jazz, modern jazz, Pop, R&B or even by chance opera, Juanita would reign supreme

If music turned colors for all its seasons, Juanita Brooks would be deeply hued, well toned and colorfully harmonizing the blues.  Juanita sings!  Whether via gospel, blues, traditional jazz, modern jazz, Pop, R&B or even by chance opera, Juanita would reign supreme in any genre.  Set to bring a taste of New Orleans styled blues to New York, Brooks will appear in concert alongside New Yorker Ghanniyya Greene as part of the Ladies Singing the Blues series produced by Voza Rivers, Executive Producer of New Heritage Theatre Group and Barbara Horowitz, founder and President of Community Works in association with Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies.  The evening will be held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard at 135th Street, and hosted by Professor Bob O’Meally, Director of Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies in honor of Black Music Month scheduled for Thursday, June 28th at 7:00 p.m. 

A former resident of New Orleans, it was the flood waters resulting from Hurricane Katrina that led Juanita to Baton Rouge, LA., where she now resides.   “Over 30 years of collecting is gone.  Katrina wiped it all out. Some of it, I will forget, some I wont forget, but the beauty of it is that I can move on.  I have such a sense of starting anew.  I’ve changed and in a way it’s impacted my music. It’s hard to explain, but I have a feeling of hopefulness,� stated Brooks about her new beginnings.  

It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to say Juanita was born into music, perhaps even created for it since her entire family is musical.  “I can truly say music is strong within the family gene. It’s in our blood, it’s my DNA,� remarked the talented vocalist. “My career developed as I developed in the arts world.  I sang gospel and then secular music.  Eventually I moved on to theatre. I even began to dance,� recalled the theatrical thespian, who loves to add humor to her performances.  She has appeared in “One Mo Time,� as Ma Reed and in a production of “Stagger Lee.�

Different genres of music remind Juanita of brightly colored flowers. Although, as a self-employed woman who raised 4 children alone, life has not been a bed of roses. “Coming from Louisiana and a particular genre of music, singing can be hard, especially for a female.  You have to fight for respect sometimes even from your own peers.  I have been moving through life losing and gaining all the while.  My mentors were women like Aretha, Gladys, Mahalia, Etta, Sarah, Nancy, and Nina. I’m guided by them musically. I listen to their music and it’s helped me cope with losing all the material stuff, 2 hip replacements, having discs removed from the lumbar section of my spine, wearing a back brace, and neck problems. All of that and Katrina, yet I feel hope with the heart of a child.  I don’t know where I am going, based upon where I have just come from, but I still feel good about it,� explained the talented singer/composer who has taken her message of hope and shared it via her motivational speeches. 

“I look forward to meeting Ghanniyya Greene during the Ladies Singing the Blues event, because she will bring the traditional music of Harlem while I bring the music of the south.  That should be a wonderful lyrical blend,� said Juanita enthusiastically. “You know, I was not a household name in my own city,� stated Juanita who has sang in England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and Australia and has appeared in night clubs and on cruise lines. “There were things happening in New Orleans that I could not abide. I talk about that in my motivational speeches and sometimes it does not go over well.  People often have a hard time receiving truth.  I am a non-conformist so the forces to be that ran things in New Orleans, did not think I had the right behavior to become a household name there.    Were I to depend on being hired in New Orleans to feed my children, we would have starved. It had nothing to do with my talent as an artist but that the powers-that-be there ruled the City like it was still a slave port, which at one time it was.  The educational system, I believe, was deliberately sabotaged so that they could nurture a low-waged, uneducated labor force.  Musically they chose who they wanted to make stars.  It had nothing to do with talent.  It had to do with whether you were willing to confirm to their system of doing things.  This may sound odd but many of those who lived in New Orleans had never traveled outside that City.  They were too poor to leave.  In a way, Katrina forced them out of hopelessness and offered them the opportunity to see a different world.  Maybe even a better one,� stated the outspoken entertainer.

“The music industry is the way it is because many artists have not taken a stand.  My son is in rap.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  Rappers didn’t wait for the record industry.  They devised a plan that eventually made the record industry come to them.  I am part of old school music but there is still a market for us.  People want to hear us. Old school artists just need to come together and demand greater respect and economic fairness.  It’s been difficult but I’ve managed to be appreciated in this business without selling my soul,� said the singer who owns the Masters to her 5 CDs.

“Someone once said after hearing my music, that I am the world’s great hidden secret,� commented the performer.  “That really touched me.  Of all the things that people say I should of or could have done, no comment could top his because to me it sounded like an applause."

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