New Jersey/New York based genre-bending singer-songwriter MJ Songstress has been surrounded by music her entire life. Born in Queens, NY, she was raised in Fort Lee, NJ by her Greek mother and Mexican father, exposed from an early age to a wide variety of musical genres. As a child, she would go to studio sessions and rehearsals with her father and at the age of 14 started singing in her parent’s ‘Somethin’ Special Orchestra’ as the lead vocalist. Singing everything from jazz standards, pop, r&b, funk, soul, Latin, Greek, classical and bossa nova, to name a few, prepared her to start writing her own songs and playing guitar and piano. In addition to writing and performing music, she also discovered her love for dance, and starting taking a variety of dance classes at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. Her long and accomplished career has included being a Top 20 finalist on The Voice Season 6 Team Usher, a finalist on La Voz Mexico Final Season Team Alejandro Sanz, being invited to sing the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, Giants Stadium and the US Open, touring the world with Nile Rodgers and CHIC as lead vocalist, and working, recording, collaborating and performing as a featured artist with several people and artists in the music industry. Having honed her craft throughout the years, MJ Songstress’s music is filled with fresh and innovative sounds that encapsulate the many genres of music that have influenced her. Last year, she released the single and accompanying video for “Give Me Tonight/Dame La Noche”, and most recently, she released her new single and music video for “Carousel”, a fun and up-tempo song that she says she had a blast with. As the lead singer and band leader for On The Move Entertainment, one of the top music entertainment companies in NYC, she had the opportunity during the pandemic to perform a gig in The Maldives. With plans to make more music in the coming months, there’s no doubt that she has much more fun and exciting music in the works! You can connect with MJ Songstress via the following links:
You were exposed to music very early in your life, going to studio sessions and rehearsals with your father and have said that your parents took you to their gigs when you were a child and hid you behind the equipment. What was it like for you to be so completely immersed in music from such a young age? What can you tell me about your parent’s 10-piece orchestra?
It was the absolute best. I am one lucky kid and I’m grateful for those humble beginnings. My parents busted their toosh and powered through. To be around music was my happy place, my freedom, my joy, my roots, my school, my bible, my purpose. When my parents formed “Somethin’ Special Orchestra” that for me was my college full of professors. I had to be quick on my toes. Learning all genres from jazz standards, top 40, Motown, blues, funk. I had to learn the different stylings and vocal pockets. I had to learn how to lead a band and cue all the musicians and fast. That to me is the best schooling and experience anyone can have. Thank you Mommy and Daddy!
You started singing lead vocals for the orchestra at 14 years of age. What was that experience for you and how do you feel it helped to prepare you for a career in music?
I believe I was 12. As I mentioned above is was the best schooling and practice for me. I absorbed like a sponge all this musical knowledge and I ran with it. That experience was my blueprint and my roots. It is what has shaped me to be the artist, vocalist, musician, creator, performer, entertainer and bandleader I am today.
Having been exposed to so many different genres of music growing up, how do you feel that the music you grew up with helped to shape your sound? As you’ve expanded your music career, what can you tell me about your desire to add Greek elements (like the Bouzouki) and a Mexican touch to your songs?
As mentioned before I am a sponge. No matter where the sounds or musical influences come from they are ingrained in me. I have access to everything I’ve ever heard or felt. I humbly believe for that to be a superpower. When I’m inspired and in the creation process I can grab from all my influences and from my own culture which I’m proud of. I look at all the musical knowledge as a tool in a toolbox or a special ingredient in a secret recipe. There are so many tools and ingredients to choose from and each is unique to serve it’s purpose.
You discovered a love for dance as a teenager and took lesson in a variety of dances, such as ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary dance, mambo and hip hop/street jazz, at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. What sparked your love for dance and what was your experience like at the dance center?
Dance has always been another escape for me. To be free and free with my body. Dance is it’s own art form and I wanted to dive into it at a young age. Watching performers like Michael and Janet Jackson have inspired me so much. The way they would own and command a stage left a mark on me like you wouldn’t believe. I knew I wanted to add the dance element to my craft. I would go take almost 3-5 classes a day at Broadway Dance Center. I was committed and motivated to be the best I could be. Working hard towards becoming a triple/quadruple threat. I understood that nothing comes easy. It takes hard work and dedication. That’s what I’m all about. It’s the Aries fire in me.
What can you tell me about your most recent single “Carousel”, as well as the music video that was just released. What was the process of filming the video like and how did you meet and come to feature the gentlemen who are in the video with you, NovaRnB and Armando? With different directors for your music videos, what can you tell me about the directors you have worked with and how do you went about choosing them?
“Carousel” is a fun up-tempo beat and record. I listen to a plethora of music. I was vibing with my producer, Tyrice Jones, and played him some of my favorite Sergio Mendes songs. One of the songs grabbed his attention, so we looked up a live performance on YouTube and “Carousel” started to form. The sample we used had such a cool vibe. To me it sounded like the sample was saying “Carousel”. So from that word I just built around the song idea.
Shooting a music video for “Carousel” was a blast. I just put together a team of people who are all my friends including NovaRnB and Armando and asked if they were all willing to jump in. They were all down and did it for the love. So I am so grateful to have a group of people and creatives that I can count on to support me. We basically just shot the music video in my apartment and boom “Carousel” was created. Directed by Sage Love.
Having participated in singing competitions, such as NBC’s The Voice and The Voice Mexico, what did those experiences teach you about the music industry? Do you feel that those experiences led to opportunities you may not have otherwise had?
What I’ve learned from experiences such as The VOICE are that first and foremost it is a TV show. People have no control on what goes on. Having said that, that experience taught me to keep going no matter what. Believe in yourself, your power and your gifts. You are the creator of your life and destiny.
Usher had shared with me, “When one door closes another will open. Luck Favors The Prepared!” That will always stick with me.
I read that you received a standing ovation for performing on an amateur night at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem when you were younger. What can you tell me about that experience?
WOAH. That experience was one for the books. I was 12 years old performing against everyone. The host forgot to mention that I was a kid and so when I started singing I heard a roar of “Booooooo’s” because one of the contestants brought 2 bus loads of her family and friends from Philly so they were booing everyone. I continued to push harder and sing my heart out as opposed to running off the stage crying. I stood in my power. Ya’ll weren’t about to boo me. Lol! Once the audience realized I was a kid they freaked out and started cheering. To say that I sang at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NY? What? I knew I was made to do this and that I had drive to power me through.
You have a love for sports and played basketball in high school. You have said that sports can open doors for talented singers. What can you tell me about singing the national anthem at a Miguel Cotto fight and what doors that opened for you?
I’m always so honored and grateful to be asked to performing the National Anthem. When I got the gig to sing it for Zab Judah vs Miguel Cotto I was flying in from Florida off a Radio Promo tour. I had completely lost my voice and had been sick from all the traveling. I got home, took a hot shower and sat in the steam for almost an hour. Said my prayers and got in the ring. I had to power through no matter what. Somehow I was able to produce a decent sounding voice. It’s not easy to sing when you are hoarse however I got lucky that night. Phew. Thank goodness.
What can you tell me about your work to make sure schools keep bands funded and the importance to you of a school music programs? Are there any other community services you are passionate about?
I’m not currently doing any specific work per se, however I am a stand for music programs. I believe that the music programs need to be better supported and respected the way sports are. From my own experience it was always sports over music and I unfortunately got caught in between the two. I was point guard and shooting guard for my basketball team and I was head soprano and choir manager for the music program. I wasn’t able to do both because scheduling overlapped. So guess what I ended up choosing?
How did the opportunity arise for you recently to perform on a private island in The Maldives? What was the experience like?
Alongside pursuing my career I am also a lead singer and bandleader for one of the top music entertainment companies in New York City called On The Move Entertainment. They are absolutely an amazing family and group of musicians. To have received a gig during a pandemic is an absolute blessing. I got the call and I was like “Heckkkkk Yeah!”. Maldives was Exquisite. I mean what can I say. I was in paradise enjoying with others, creating beautiful moments and doing what I love. It’s a win-win-win!!
What can you tell me about being a part of the Intentional Healing and Wellness ‘Conscious Conversation Series’ with Andrea Mancuso recently and how did the opportunity arise for you to speak at the event?
It was powerful. Andrea is one of my home girls. We met during a transformational training at Momentum Education. We are both graduates of the curriculum and training. Intentional Healing and Wellness ‘Conscious Conversation Series’ was a tangible result for Andrea during her leadership program at Momentum Education. We have always supported one another so when she asked me to be a part of her series I was an immediate YES!! It’s all about supporting others and for allowing your voice and perspective to be heard. I personally love being a part of panels and speaking engagements. It’s another avenue and lane to people and a platform to share what I am passionate about outside of music.
You have discussed the importance of self-care for the mind, body and spirit. What does self-care look like for you?
I do NOT mess around when it comes to self-care. I believe in refueling, rebooting, resetting and REST which I know can be a conversation for some. Not I! I give and put out so much energy that I need a moment for myself. For me self care consists of lazy weekends, bed rest and the remote, 2 hour full body massages, facials, yoga, workouts, time with my family and time with myself. Silence and Stillness are the key to having me be at my BEST 100%!
What’s next for you?
The Music Continues….Stay Tuned!