About a month ago, I wrote an article about an up-and-coming musician named Jennah Bell. She was currently preparing for her first Music Matters performance for the 2012 BET Awards and finishing up her education at the Berklee School of Music. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Bell about her love for music, first BET performance, and her determination to believe in herself.
I can guarantee you that this young lady is on her way to stardom and has her mind focused on success. But hey, don’t take my word for it.
Find out for yourself….
When did you first realize you could sing?
I have been singing since I was a very little girl but, I never really thought anything of it. I mostly just enjoyed the act of doing it and would sing whatever I could. My favorite song was “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison and I remember recording as our voicemail message and singing it any chance I got. I totally didn’t know what the song was about lol.
When did you decide you wanted to be a singer?
I always had really terrible stage fright that prohibited me from performing in public so I never thought it was something I would ever be able to do in front of people. I have always been in love with the lyric/writing aspect of music and thought maybe I would just write songs for other people. It wasn’t until my parents started sending me to summer music programs in high school, that I began gain confidence in my abilities as a vocalist.
You have a very unique sound. Who has been your musical influence?
I have so many influences, musical and otherwise, that I feel contribute to my sound. Some of which include Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, The Beatles, Alan Menken, Elton John, Kurt Elling, Barry Manilow, Philip Pullman, Harper Lee, Shel Silverstein, Jim Henson, Jeff Buckley, growing up in Oakland, my parents, Pixar, etc.
I know you attended a summer program sponsored by the Grammy Foundation. What was your experience like there and how did it help you to grow as an artist?
I had the opportunity to attend a camp sponsored by the Grammy Foundation the first year they launched it. I was one of 11 singer/songwriters, and 46 aspiring musicians, picked to be in the program. In one of the panel/seminars we had industry professionals such as Jimmy Jam and David Foster come speak to us. David Foster said, “Only one of you will make it in the business, which of you thinks it is you?”. I was the only person to raise my hand and he called me up in front of everyone and told me I had 30 seconds to show him what I could do. I was petrified! I somehow managed to get my legs to function, walked to the front of the room, and played a song I wrote on piano.
He commended me for my bravery and helped me to realize that so much of anything that you attempt to achieve is believing in yourself. That day I set example for myself and never looked back. I was 16 years old.
Many artists do not choose to attend school to further their skills. As a student at Berklee College of Music, do you feel it is necessary for musicians to attend school to perfect their craft?
I was extremely blessed to be able to go to school to further my studies in music. I feel like some form of “academia” is important to better your craft. I just don’t think it necessarily means you need to be at a university in a classroom to do so. Everyone learns differently and I think it is critical to figure out what environment works best for you so that you can get the most of your experience. Much of what I received was largely due to my peers. It was an incredible blessing to be surrounded by so many amazing musicians my age that challenged me and exposed me to different “schools” of thought and perceptions.
How did you get selected to perform at the BET Awards?
Kelly Griffin [the head of the music matters program] invited me to the BET offices to come play for him and some of the staff. He had come across some of my videos on YouTube through a couple different people. They were extremely receptive and warm and enjoyed the performance so much that he called me a couple weeks later and invited me to perform on the awards.
What part of the Awards were you most excited about?
I was extremely excited to see D’angelo!
Do you ever get nervous before a performance? If so, how do you cope with the nervousness?
I am nervous every time I perform. I think its natural to get nervous because essentially it comes from wanting to do well. I do my best to make friends with my nerves and transcend beyond the fear itself and repeat in my head that whatever will be, will be and just do my personal best.
What has been the best experience you have had thus far?
Reading and receiving messages from people that identify and find joy in my music. To be able to inspire others and hear about it makes me feel like I am following the right path and giving back to humanity. It makes me want to do and be more.
What advice do you give to young musicians who are pursuing their career independently?
Be diligent and disciplined in learning your instrument, whatever that may be. Don’t be afraid to lose your mind, you might find a better one in the process. Love yourself as hard as you can.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned?
“Having a plan B distracts from plan A”. I heard that in a Will Smith interview and it has become a reminder to leave no room for doubt. It is something that I have tried to always live by.
Many popular music artists in the industry are often reported in the news to be involved in dangerous and controversial behavior. How will you deal with any controversy that may come your way?
Where I am concerned, what is considered “controversial” is entirely subjective. Many of the ways that I will choose to live out my youth could be considered questionable or taboo depending on the audience. I do my best to align my behavior with what I consider true to myself and realize that some of my mistakes (past, present, future) are part of my learning process as human. I can’t see that changing whether the “cameras” are on or off. I think I will handle it the best way I know how when I cross that road.
Check out Jennah Bell performing her song, “The Hatchet,” at The Strivers Row Showcase below.
Tags: Angel Mills, Berklee School of Music, BET Awards, Grammy Foundation, Jennah Bell