All over the world there are diligent, passionate, nurturing, collaborative women and persons identifying female, making music their business. Some work behind the scenes, some spend half their career-time teaching, and half performing on stages. Whether she’s a booking agent like Asheville’s Ellie Schwarz and Louise Baker, or Echo Mountain Recording Studio’s Manager and music entrepreneur Jessica Tomison, or a venue owner like Hendersonville’s Kelly Cubin with Southern Appalachian Brewery, the divine feminine pours over our city like mother’s milk.
All over the world there are diligent, passionate, nurturing, collaborative women and persons identifying female, making music their business. Some work behind the scenes, some spend half their career-time teaching, and half performing on stages. Whether she’s a booking agent like Asheville’s Ellie Schwarz and Louise Baker, or a venue owner like Hendersonville’s Kelly Cubin with Southern Appalachian Brewery, the divine feminine pours over our city like mother’s milk.
There are literally hundreds of features and articles in prominent to humble publications, validating the conundrum and continued disparity between the sexes within the music industry when it comes to positions, pay and promotions. And still our sisters persevere for equity, pave the way for generations to come, and train and mentor the enlisted. Even within this pandemic, we witness these seafarers at the helm, mapping new and shifting courses.
For the past few months it’s been my honor to celebrate with you readers, the plethora of talented and tenacious ladies of the arts and music, who continue to navigate uncharted waters, keep their crafts afloat and flex their muscle during this storm. It’s that fundamental commitment that motivates the mother and daughter we feature this month.
When Melissa McKinney gave birth to her only daughter, Kayla, she was working the clubs and recording in Charlotte, NC after moving there from her hometown of Princeton, WV. Fast forward some years, and we find Kayla and Melissa splitting their time between Princeton and Asheville, making music and changing young lives through mentoring, teaching and counseling, together.
Mom started Stages Music School in West Virginia in 2008 which she still owns and operates today, albeit remotely. Melissa explains that “Our students are encouraged to help others and to make a positive change in the world. We are a family at Stages and we hope that everyone who walks through the door, feels loved and accepted.” At Stages, Melissa teaches guitar, piano, bass, drums and voice and has a small staff of other instructors who teach violin and brass instruments.
Riding tandem to the music school is an offshoot program called “The One Voice Project” that McKinney started within the school Kayla grew up in WV. With an emphasis on artist development, it’s also an enterprise where Melissa produces and schedules empowerment concerts. “We take the young musicians on tours to perform at schools, community centers and festivals with a focus too on motivating kids and to speak to them about mental health issues, suicide prevention and bullying as a way to build confidence.” It’s a program that she intends to bring to the Asheville community.
The catalyst for the inception of the program, Melissa says, is when Kayla began to struggle emotionally, especially after a classmate tragically committed suicide at age 11. “Ultimately, Kayla wrote a song about her beloved friend. The overall message in the lyrics being ‘I’m going to make a change in your name.’
As Kayla began to share the song at these showcases and concerts, interjecting empowerment speaking around her personal story of loss and depression, she not only planted the seed for her future role in the program but she started a band and called it “The Change.”
“Kayla desired to use her music to uplift other kids and I loved it. While I concentrate on the artist development side, she is more aligned with the emotional development side and we both very quickly realized that a platform where she could help them express their suffering and talk about their challenges and I could teach and produce opportunities for them to play and share their stories through music; it was just very simply a call to action for both of us.”
As her 5pc band, Kayla Lynn & The Change began touring with their message; mother and daughter began to research and discover other programs with like-minded intentions of advocacy and connections which easily lead them to work with the Leaf Festival organization.
The back story starts before Kayla was born. Melissa explains, “My only desire was to be a singer so after I graduated from high school, I moved to Charlotte where I played music for a long time. And when I had Kalya, I started teaching voice, piano and guitar. I never realized until then, that teaching music was what I was born to do. My low self-esteem stood in the way of my being able to follow my dream of being a front person, performer. And honestly, I stood in my own way. So it became my passion to help other people, to not stand in their own way.”
“My daughter’s ear for music was early and pronounced. She’d get excited about bass lines and grooves and point out to me, parts of songs that even I didn’t hear. She took to the drums and I started teaching her how to play guitar and bass and we’d sing harmony together.” Consequently, Melissa put 7 year old Kayla, in a band with one of her best friends who she still plays with now, 13 years later.
To be part of her offspring’s journey into life through their shared romance with and devotion to music and changing lives, is something Mom doesn’t take for granted. For each, there’s an acute and raised awareness when they share the stage together, that exudes a kind of kindred bloodline of confidence and energy few musicians can claim. “Kayla grew up listening to me sing Blues and Soul and those musical sensibilities are ingrained inside her, but the true gift is when we all see that super-shine that surrounds her and permeates within her when she’s on stage. It’s beautiful for me to see that I was able to provide her a foundation that allows her to be so free.”
– Kayla’s band
– the Empowerment Program
– The Music School
Peggy Ratusz is a singer, songwriter, vocal coach
Peggy’s October shows/gigs:
Thursday Oct 1st, Peggy Ratusz & Daddy LongLegs Blues Band, Isis Lawn Music Series, Asheville, NC, 6:30pm
Sunday, Oct 4th, Peggy Ratusz & Jonathan Pearlman, Mills River Brewing Co., Mills River, NC, 2:00pm
Saturday Oct 10th, Love Bubble, featuring Peggy Ratusz, Paula Hanke & Hank Bones, Whiteside Brewing Cashiers, NC, 6pm
Thursday Oct 29th – A Return to Peter, Paul & Mary, 60’s Retro Rewind with Peggy Ratusz, Kelly Jones & Paula Hanke, Isis Lawn Music Series, Asheville, NC, 6:30pm