On a spring like day in the middle of the week in February I find myself walking into a cozy and chic coffee-house in Gramercy Park to meet with the amazing Amanda Holley and her manager the legendary Ralph Cooper the 2nd, while they were enjoying a late brunch and sipping coffee. (yeah it was that kind of day). Upon seeing me enter the restaurant, they both invited me to join them. Sitting next to an iconic legend on one side and the beautiful Amanda on the other I felt like royalty (while ordering a large coffee) for I definitely was in the presence of royalty. After catching up with my two old friends in some meaningful and intelligent conversation, I began my interview with Amanda Holley, who is a recording artist, musician, song writer, and a published poet.
Amanda who is an east coast native (Born in Newark NJ) and spent most of her time “bouncing between Jersey and the Upper West Side of Manhattan when I finally met my aunt who actually was a songwriter who wrote for Stephanie Mills.” Amanda went on to tell me: “First and foremost I’m an artist. I make music because it’s who I Am, my mom told me that I sang even before I could speak, my Mother was a trained concert cellist and joked that she trained my ear in the womb. She went to the Manhattan School of Music, and my dad who I met later on in my childhood wrote for Sara Vaughan and he sang and played the piano, so maybe it came from my parents but I’ve always been a singer and will always be a singer, and the songwriting thing I was doing since I was about three, I started playing violin when I was two and a half and piano when I was around four, I started teaching myself (more self-taught with the piano, mainly forcing myself to play the piano to get all my song ideas out).”
I asked Amanda how does she work when she’s writing songs: “Mostly for me with the songwriting I always say the songs are in the air. I just pull them out of the sky, out of the ether. It feels like the music is always there at any given moment in time. Let’s say I’m going to fix breakfast now, than a song comes out. If I’m just sitting down like Ralph is sitting there, than like five, ten, twenty songs will just keep coming. I’m not saying that every single song is a pop song, or that every song is something I would play for like radio, maybe it would be more of a piece for theater or maybe classical.”
(Photo Credit: Tian Qiu)
Now anyone who really knows me knows that I love classical music. So I asked Amanda how she feels about Bach and Beethoven: “Classic music is awesome! Bach is my boo, Beethoven is my hubby, Sondheim is my second hubby. Sondheim is technically musical theatre, but I started playing violin when I was two and a half because I saw my mother playing in the orchestra pits, I was sitting with her in the pits and everyone had a violin, and I was like, I need one too.”
“Classical music is something that is in me, and I think that it’s really incredible that I landed an incredible musician for a mom, to go to her school and study. Classical music has a huge influence on R&B music, so it’s really cool to hear it that way, it’s also something that I may have taken for granted, when I was around ten years old my aunt went to Julliard and she wrote for Stephanie Mills and managed her for the first portion of her career, she discovered her at a talent pageant when she was 13, her friend was the director of the prep program, and I started working with teachers at Julliard and that was really an experiment for me to open my voice up to doing different things that I didn’t even know that was there, and I started singing a lot of classical music as well as playing it.”
The most important thing to Amanda artistically is the purity of the music and really being who she is: “The music is the only place where I can be myself, and the stage is where I actually feel at home and free of everything, like that where I feel like I’m flying. I always say singing is like breathing to me, so like everywhere else in life I just feel real awkward, but when I’m making the music it feel like the real me. And when it comes to artistry the thing that always inspires me to be honest in my work is remembering all the great artists that inspired me and gave me hope and gave me the insight into life that I needed as a little girl, so inspiring others is a big deal for me.”
(Photo Credit: Phyllis Meredith and Sekou Diarra)
One of the many amazing things about Amanda is that one can tell that she is an old soul that is very spiritually connected to all living beings, just by listening to her talk, and when she sings it reverberates through the very core of your being. prior to the interview when we were talking, I discovered that we read the same books on spirituality by some of the same authors, ancient and current. She is truly aware of her own consciousness and how it’s connected to everything and everyone else which reflects in her songwriting and more so when she’s singing.
(Photo Credit: Nino Ignacio)
I asked Amanda what role she thinks an artist plays in society: “I think that every artist serves a different purpose. Artist’s are not just people walking around that decided to wear something cool and put a statement on their head, artists are extensions of the universe working through us (humanity) and for us, so each artist serves a certain purpose. Some are instigators, some are offering insight about fate, some might be allowing us to release our pain, whether it’s Metallica or Prince or Madonna, each artist serves its purpose.”
(Photo Credit: Steve Berebbi)
“I’ve always known my purpose, people would ask me to sing and they would cry or be happy. When I’m just living the music it allows people to get in touch with what their feeling or what they are holding back from themselves, and it frees something in them too, whatever it is, it could be passion or hurt, pain or love or whatever the feeling is. So emotionally I’m here to be a catalyst (a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change) for other people to live out what their feeling. Also to provide inspiration, ultimately when I get to where I want to be, I want to be here for people because my second love is for people, actually my love for both is equal, and children especially, I want to work with kids.” Her response to this question moved me greatly.
(Photo Credit: Steve Berebbi and Dan Culleton)
Amanda believes in the power of music to bring people together and to heal: “Getting people to sing together, and be together in that moment and get every age, color and ethnic background and their all going to come together in that one moment, in one song for those few minutes and all be transported to another zone, and to be able to be a conduit for that is a major blessing for me which just makes me happy. To me that shows the power of music. Music, frequency, and sound waves is what everything is created on. This makes my whole life worth it, to able to get up and tell my story, realizing that no matter where an individual comes from, each human being has lived the same story, just a bit differently, and the more that I’ve embraced that, the more that I’ve been able to let go of my own pain, and transform it.” Spiritual Alchemy indeed!
(Photo Credit: Phyllis Meredith)
When song writing I asked Amanda what sort of themes does she pursue: “I’m a romantic so I write a lot about love in all it’s forms, love for people as a whole, love for that person I’m in love with, and love for myself which I’m learning to do everyday, and I’m getting close to that goal.”
Asking Amanda about what’s scary about the music industry, she had this to say: “The music industry is a pretty cutthroat industry, and you can have people who you think are your friends and those same people can turn around and do things to you that are painful and horrible. It can be scary at the time, like you can put your whole career in this persons hand and they went completely AWOL, and now I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, when someone does something catastrophic to your art, it’s hard to continue, but that was the moment when Ralph stepped in, and I knew from the minute I heard his voice, but I didn’t know just how instrumental he would be, and I was very blessed, because you have a lot of people in this business that talk and do things for you, but very few who actually care.”
(Photo Credit: Phyllis Meredith)
Concerning a real life experience that inspired Amanda, she told me: “Reuniting with my father was a big deal for me, I only met him a few times, and I heard he was on his last leg and I went to talk to him anyway despite my aunt and people around me concerned that I would experience sadness or pain. I went to see my dad and this was the most conversation we ever had, but my father as a writer for Sara Vaughan whose work actually he was never compensated for, but his name is on the record as Greg Holley, which is something I’m working on now. My dad didn’t recognize me as I walked in the door, I told him who I was and he was like “Oh My God”, and I played him what I was working on, and the Grammys was actually on that night, people were on the red carpet. He listened to my music and said “There is so much passion in your voice” overjoyed. The next day my father went into a coma, and he was out for two days, my uncle didn’t want to tell me fearing that it would upset me. I finally came to the hospital and I took his hand, with my aunt and the nurse there, and I played him my music that I played for him on the first visit, especially the one that I could tell was his favorite called “Work in Progress” which is a song that I will probably release on my third album. Upon me playing my song for him, my dad actually came out of the coma, sat up looked at me, smiled and said “I love you and I’m sorry”. That was the healing power of music which can reach across all circumstance and situations in this universe. Music healed my father, and he stuck around for about eight more months with only 20% of brain wave function, he stuck around that long for me.” A true testament to the light working of this phenomenal woman’s music.
(Photo Credit: Tian Qiu)
So was she sent to earth to help and heal humanity? A demi-goddess, angel-incarnate? I believe maybe a little bit of both. Whatever the case may be, Aretha Franklin thought she was special. While Amanda was at Coney Island Summer Series, she watched Aretha perform and backstage stopped to give Amanda compliments: “Aretha was super cool to me backstage, she would always come over to me and give me like three seconds to say things like “you’re gonna be alright”, “I love those shoes”.
At this point right in the middle of the interview, all three of our phones rang in tandem, It was Carl Van Neveus III, executive producer of CODE NYC Media Group/Code NYC Magazine, who was hosting the DJ Dougie Fresh radio show that day, calling us to give shout outs on the radio show. After Ralph, Amanda and myself took our turns taking on the show, we got back to the interview.
Not surprisingly, Amanda continued by talking about spiritual matters: “I meditate a lot, I love candles, angels, crystals. I love all traditions, I love to draw from almost all spiritual teachings. I’m very eclectic spiritually, like a hippie, except I don’t smoke weed, lol.”
I asked Amanda what super power she would have and why?: “I would have the power to fly, so I could fly around and save people, and be able to see what’s going on in different parts of the world to be able to help.”
And just what would make this woman angry?: “Injustice, lying, and hypocrisy makes me angry.”
I then asked Amanda what would be her dream project: “To provide, feed, clothe and house every kid in this world actually, and all just love with no strings attached, and education that’s not indoctrinated, that’s my dream project.”
Amanda’s most inspirational place is: “The first place is the Cloisters, I love the energy there. I love being in nature, waterfalls, on top of a mountain, and the third place is anywhere where there is beautiful shoes.”
(Photo Credit: Kevin Michael Reede and Joseph Calinda )
Amanda released her first hit single “Feenin” in mid 2016, and music video, under contract with tommy boy records, and is planning a show at the W hotel in Manhattan on March, 29th. Also later this year will be the release of two more singles and music videos, that I got a little look at (everything is so hush-hush) but all I can say is that it will be amazing. Expect to see Amanda at shows and festivals all this year, including the Code NYC music events.
(Photo Credit: Tian Qiu )
I hope one day in the near future I will get to hear Amanda play some classical music, or even do an album or classical show, which I’m sure I would die from the sheer brilliance of the composition of her music and siren-like voice, but I’m sure that if I do perish, that Amanda would simply resuscitate me with the octave of her voice from one of her beautiful and heavenly songs. Amanda is here to stay, for the next 300 years, and we are so lucky to have her.
(Photo Credit: Steve Berebbi)
Record Label: Tommy Boy Records
Manager: Ralph Cooper 2nd
Kevin Michael Reede
Amanda Holley’s Mom