One-on-One with Harpist/Singer/Songwriter Rashida “Tulani” Jolley

The Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education (FAME) hosted an “Artist in the School” event at Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro on Thursday, March 27. Harpist/singer/songwriter Rashida Jolley who uses the stage name Tulani, was the featured artist. Jolley who is a Washington-area native, spoke with the students about her career and the importance of getting a good education.

The event was hosted in partnership with the high school’s Performing Arts Department and Prince George’s County Council Member Derrick Leon Davis (District 6) and had a turnout of about 180 students, some who were invited by Jolley to sing on stage and participate in a fun activity about following your dreams. After the students were dismissed to class, Jolley sat down with The Sentinel lifestyle reporter Alexis A. Goring to share her story of stardom and passion for helping young people.

Goring: I love how you engaged the kids with stories they can relate to before your performance. Was that your original idea?

Tulani: I come from a family of speakers. My father was a preacher. My uncle’s a national motivational speaker. My dad and Willy Jolley (national motivational speaker) were brothers…My father always told me people can relate to stories so you take what’s in your life or stories from other people’s lives to give the message through stories.

Goring: Speaking of stories, let’s start with yours. Where were you born? Do you have siblings?

Tulani: I was born in Washington, D.C. I have six siblings—I have two sets of twin brothers and two sisters—so it’s a big family.

Goring: What role did your parents play in making you into who you are today?

Tulani: My father, unfortunately he passed away but he sacrificed his own dreams and goals for us. Initially, it was his career and then his dream became his family. So he poured everything into us growing up and taught us music since I was very little. He would put us at the piano and be like, ‘Sing that note, sing that note over here! That wasn’t right! Do it again!’ He was my best friend, my mentor, my hero. And then my mother had this intuition, this instinct to know all of our purposes. The harp was my mom’s idea…I went to my first harp lesson and I instantly fell in love with it and then my mom said when I was playing classical music on the harp, “You sing and your singing is soulful and your harp is classical. Why don’t you bring them together?”

Goring: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Tulani:  It’s so much about that whole message of persistence, determination, never giving up but working hard as well—working hard on your craft, working hard at what you do and not letting the challenges and the obstacles that are going to come keep you from it.

Goring: How did you get into the music industry?

Tulani: Through a lot of hard work. I’m still a dreamer, I still have more dreams. I want to become an international artist with my own music, travel with my own music and have an album out. The number one goal for me—that dash in between the year I was born and the year that I leave this Earth that I really want to accomplish is to take the gift that I’ve been given through music and the passion that I have for music to be able to impact the world in a positive way through that music that makes people feel good and inspires them—to do that on an international scale, I would feel like that dash is complete.

Goring: You toured with Lady Gaga. How did you land that gig?

Tulani: I auditioned. My brother got an e-mail from a friend of his who is a musician about him auditioning and he sent it to me…You don’t know what the outcome is going to be but you go for every opportunity so I auditioned and I was chosen to go on tour.

Goring: Were you nervous on opening night?

Tulani: Yes. It’s funny because I think nerves are good. Ella Fitzgerald said, ‘If you’re not nervous about something that you’re about to do then you’re not passionate about it because the nerves come from you wanting to do great and not disappoint your audience.’ But what happens—the beautiful part about it is—once you hit the stage it all goes away and you feel like you’re home.

Goring: What was it like being a contestant on America’s Got Talent?

Tulani: It was great! I went through a couple of rounds and my performance was aired on national television. It was a wonderful experience and then that was kind of like the beginning and so then from there it’s been an evolution to get to where I am now.

Goring: You have a passion to mentor and speak to youth. Why?

Tulani: Because I have so many people mentor me to this day. I have so many people who poured into me particularly during my early years of when I was a kid. So many people who said, “You’re going to make it. You’re going to be something in life. You’re going to do great.” When you have that while you’re growing up as a kid, trying to find who you are and dealing with peer pressure but you have at least one person in your life that is pouring into you, it does something miraculous within you to let you know, “I can win and I can make it at whatever I choose to do.” So to me, it’s my duty. It’s my priority and my honor to be able to give back because it’s been given to me.

Goring: What kind of messages do you pour into the youth?

Tulani: Self-esteem, self-empowerment, go for your dreams! I’m working with FAME in promoting the arts because the arts truly do wonderful things…It’s powerful to be able to use the arts as a tool to effect positive change and this is the work that FAME does so I’m honored to be an ambassador for them.

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