Overcoming adversities in life has been the driving force for talented Amanda Holley. Although Amanda has been through tragic and painful circumstances, she doesn’t let this stop her from attaining her goals, as the music comes naturally to her. She writes, performs, and is also an actress.
She picked up the violin at a very early age as young as two and a half old, and at three she was playing the keyboard, she was indeed born with great talent. Amanda watched great performers play, and this is because she grew up in the orchestra pit where her mother performed, has shaped her to become who she is today, helping her to perfect her craft.
On a rollercoaster, Amanda takes us through how life was for her as a young female artiste emerging in the music scene, amidst other hurdles she had to overcome to enable her to get this far in a recent interview with Mister Styx of Musicarenagh. Get the full story below
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What is your stage name
My name is Amanda Holley.
Is there a story behind your stage name?
My dad’s family, the Holley family, is actually a freed slave African American family from the south and we have such a deep history filled with tragedy, strength, music, soul, and triumph over adversity . . . Dad’s grandfather & uncle (my Great Gandpa & Great Uncle) were freed at around 14 years old and went on to become professors and doctors and my Great Grandmother was full blood Native American (Cherokee) & survived the Trail of Tears.
And my ancestors prevailed over the most extreme, dark circumstances and this inspires me to carry on the family name especially having been through so many abuses myself . . . much of which stemmed from my race and being a female. It only felt right to use my family name. We also have a rich background in the music industry! I feel like I’m carrying the Holley family legacy on my shoulders . . . and pray I can make my Aunt and Uncles and ancestors proud.
Where do you find inspiration?
My darkest moments are often the catalyst for me finding the most inspirational ones I’ve been forced to turn inward to connect to something that feels so much bigger than I am . . . and somehow, through music & words . . . it pulls me through. Then, I end up creating something that incites a shift inside of me and I grow in a way I never thought I could.
What was the role of music in the early years of your life?
Music was how I survived both physically and emotionally through circumstances I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and it has been and always will be the most constant thing in my world. Music ultimately saved my life and is the reason I exist and has been my way of life since birth.
I sang before I spoke . . . and picked up my first violin at 2.5 years old . . . then started with the keyboard at age 3 because I was hearing melodies and lyrics and wanted to let people hear the chords I was dreaming up.
Are you from a musical or artistic family?
Music absolutely runs in my blood and through me, and my mom went through so so much, we always had music. Mom went to the prestigious Manhattan School Of Music for cello (she was 1 of 4 out of thousands to go) and she played in orchestra pits for musicals as well as various string ensembles throughout my childhood and I practically grew up in the orchestra pits since we couldn’t afford babysitters. I loved being there and learning as much as I could from the musicians and singers and actors.
My dad, Gregory Clarke Holley, wrote songs for the legend Sarah Vaughan, and although he was extremely troubled and not in my life past infancy, I did find out that that’s where I got my gift for composing from.
Dad’s sister, Pat Holley (my Aunt Pat), went to Juilliard and discovered, co-managed, and wrote for the great R&B singer, Stephanie Mills. My Uncles were also in a big doo wop group called the Melo Gents on Warner Bros back in the day and Aunt Pat even sang with Oscar Peterson back in the 70s and arranged for the world’s first black female opera star, Shirley Verrett.
Who inspired you to be a part of the music industry?
I always assumed even at 2 years old watching Whitney Houston on TV that I was supposed to do what she did. I knew I was born to make and share music and sing to the world. I never thought twice when a theater director mom worked for, or music school teacher, or aunts and uncles would ask me to sing for them because I was walking around hearing and making music anyway. It was only natural to share music with others. By age 7, I was singing for hundreds and soon thousands and the stage was my home.
How did you learn to sing/write/to play?
I mostly learned to sing by emulating those I saw on stage or heard on the radio or at church . . . my mom’s friend worked at the Suzuki School for strings at the state university and got me into the program for ages 2-5 and I soaked up as much as I could about the violin . . . Mom would give me pointers and show me around the keys and one of my music teachers, Bob McHugh, took time out of his lunch breaks to teach me chords and music theory which I am forever grateful for.
Eventually, I met my Aunt for the first time, and she drilled theory into my core. She wanted me to be able to teach myself every song both on the piano and as a vocalist just using sheet music. Her friend was the director of the Juilliard Prep Program for kids and he encouraged my gifts and integrated me into the system with Juilliard teachers at age 10. Together, they helped me understand my voice and sing without hurting myself. I have a 5 octave range and that can be a lot to navigate alone. Thankfully, I didn’t have to.
What was the first concert that you ever went to and who did you see perform?
I grew up in theaters from 2 years old because of my mom’s job playing in the orchestra pits so I was always surrounded by live musicians, singers, and actors . . . but the first real pop music concert I ever went to was a free Whitney Houston concert in Central Park!
How could you describe your music?
My music is something that’s bigger than I am . . . it takes on different colors & vibrations . . . each song changes me at my core as I write or perform it. I never come back the same from a moment in song . . . Sonically, I’m influenced by the great vocalists and arrangers of soul, r&b, pop, and even classical music . . . I pray that my music can be there for others whether it’s a song of passion or overcoming or just a bop you can dance to or an empowering anthem . . . I want my music to be there for others the way music always has been for me.
Describe your creative process.
The creative process never stops for me . . . in every millisecond I hear and feel the song . . . I truly believe the music is all around us – even when we don’t hear it playing . . . and as the artist, it’s my job to just let it happen to and through me – not just for myself, but for souls out there who are waiting for the song to happen to them . . . it’s a force more powerful than I can describe and it’s always evolving and changing. I’m so in love with the process every time because I always end up somewhere higher than where I started at the beginning of creating / performing the piece.
What is your main inspiration?
My biggest inspiration has to be the way that one song or one great performance can forever change someone’s life. I know it’s true because powerful songs saved me in every sense of the word. To think that I can take everything I’ve been though and turn it into a force for good in the world both musically and through my platform . . . it’s everything to me.
What musician do you admire most and why?
I honestly can’t single out just one musician because so many great artists changed the world forever . . . I love them all from Billie Holiday, Aretha, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney, Mariah, Sam Cooke, Sarah Vaughan, I could go on forever. If I could one day be remembered for being there for others with a song the way that they are . . . I would know I did what I was put on this planet to do.
Did your style evolve since the beginning of your career?
At the beginning, I really resisted creating mainstream music. I wanted to make Soul, R&B in its purest form partly because I was scared of the pop industry and also scared of myself owning who I am especially coming from a troubled past . . . but I was closing off so much of myself . . . I’m so much stronger now. I’m not scared of my own pain – not afraid of being 300% real in the song – and I finally trust myself to allow all of myself to be in the moment of the vibe that is happening. I’ve grown so much and still have so much more to evolve into . . . but I’m excited now and I trust the process and trust the music to do what it needs and wants to do through me as a creative vessel.
Who do you see as your main competitor?
There have been times when other female artists higher on the totem pole than I am have deliberately tried to stop me from progressing . . . it happens all the time and I’ll never understand it. I would never feel free if I let my ego run my art and career – it’s my sanctuary and my gift to have and share with the world.
My main competition always has and always will be myself . . . I don’t really see myself going head to head with anyone in the marketplace – I love everyone and hope I can be a part of creating a world where artists uplift one another for the sake of creating more art and more love – enough to overcome all the fear. That’s what I’m here to do . . .
What are your interests outside of music?
I love writing poetry and prose . . . I was published by Columbia Press for poetry as a teen . . . So yeah – writing and reading classic literature . . . I love crystals and the ocean and spirituality . . . Love shopping & spending time with family and friends . . .
I’m also a member of a U.N. Organization that’s focused on women’s and children’s rights! I’m so passionate about human rights . . . I’m also an actress.
If it wasn’t a music career, what would you be doing?
I can’t really imagine a career that isn’t music but – if I wasn’t doing music I would be solely an actor or a novelist / poet . . . or Professor. Music consumes me on every level . . . so there never was a plan B for me . . . and all of my passions enhance my music and can be explored along the way . . .
What is the biggest problem you have encountered in the journey of music?
Without getting too dark in this interview . . . all I can say is it’s been painful and terrifying on many levels . . . there are times I didn’t know if I would come out alive and if I did, I wasn’t sure emotionally if I would recover. It’s dangerous when you are coming from nothing and doing it on your own and there are people who will take advantage of that or prey on you.
Even after the abuses and betrayal . . . at the forefront, I’ve always fought to keep my integrity as a female, an African American female, an artist – my integrity is the only thing I can take with me . . . and my purpose to be a voice for those who have struggled and are struggling in ways big and small can only be realized if I don’t compromise the path the Creator put me here to walk. My ancestors didn’t fight for freedom for me to cave over dollar signs and fame.
Thankfully, for every bad situation, the Universe sends me a new Angel . . . and somehow I come through stronger for it and for that, I’m so thankful.
What are your plans for the coming months?
We are releasing more singles and music videos over the coming months! Each single is from my upcoming EP “The Holleygraphic EP”!! We’re also planning future shows and events and projects in TV & Film. I can’t wait to share it all!
Do you have any artistic collaboration plans
I have a few collaborations in the wings that I’m excited about!! Will be sharing as we go!
What message would you like to give to your fans?
One message I can give to my fans just based on what I’m learning on my own journey is to stay true in your purpose and know that there really is only one of you in the world! I’m so thankful for all your support because I really couldn’t do any of this without you and am so excited to sing to you and create music for you for the next 300+ years!!