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Rising Stars: Meet Chelsea J

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelsea J.

Chelsea, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
With music! I was raised in a small town called Frisco, Texas with a storybook upbringing: football games on Friday nights decked out with school colors and face paint, homecoming preparations, bonfires and church choir. I started singing in my church choir at The Potter’s house in Dallas, Texas. I was your typical small-town girl…sounds like the opening of a country tune. I took horseback riding and cheer, both contemporary and classical voice lessons; though I was not excited to sing in Italian and German, it helped mold my ‘style’—my classic smoky timbre—and learning classical taught me to read music: for that I am grateful.

Life is a lot like music. More or less a cassette tape. You know how there are A-sides and B-sides? Everyone has a B-side and it took the quarantine of 2020 for me to explore mine. Quarantine unlocked the fold of me that was a multi-creative. There are many folds to us that unlock different keynotes to our personality. I think in some ways, we are all Walking Origami whether we admit it or not. Anyone that knows me knows I love Singing and Acting. Lyrics and melody sort of thread me together, and it is to the arts I return in hard times. It is the label on my thread on the spool of life. I first came to LA at seven years old because I was in a national singing competition. My song of choice was a Hip-Hop remix of Amazing Grace that I had recorded; it was edgy and won me placement. I have always had ambitious ideas, and lofty goals that seemed to stick. My parents had a lot of experience in the world and wanted to raise me and my siblings as well-read, educated, and conscious humans that did not shy away from their Black culture. We were taught to walk with our heads held high. Our house was decked out with encyclopedias; library excursions and book reports were my favorite pastimes. The fact that I was always eager to learn helped me in my young adulthood. I also enjoy baking, watching movies, and writing songs.

When my family relocated to LA, it felt like it was the end of the world. Texas was an amazing place to grow up and I knew absolutely no-one in California. I had experience acting in Texas in indie films and on shows like Barney and Charlie Church Mouse, but LA would be a new ground zero for networking. I threw myself into school and performed anywhere that I could. I was always a lyricist and read music but I did not play an instrument. I fell in love with acoustic guitar and taught myself over three years ago. Now, I write the bulk of my songs with my baby Sloane-Rochelle. My guitar has two first names and she has been a pillar of peace in my life. 2020 has been marked by widespread isolation, but I had tons of practice from my first five years of being in Southern California. The idea is that you have to keep moving forward. When you do not know how to move forward when you feel stagnant—which I have felt before several times over—you have to lean into that uncertainty. If you do it long enough, you may discover the beauty of your B-side.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Music has always been in my bones and it was always a part of my narrative interwoven in my life no matter if I was having a good time or a bad time. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2019 after transferring from a junior college. And it was through my college experiences that I learned more about the bubble my peers were in. In my experience, private Christian universities are plagued with small-mindedness and racism.

The school I attended had some contention when I was cast in musicals like Into The Woods or The Addams Family. By portraying “The Witch” in Into The Woods or “Morticia Addams” I unknowingly pressed the cultural reset button at my school and got unwarranted drama behind it all. I could not wait to graduate; because the pushback ate me up inside; but I knew myself and knew that there was no “right” or “wrong” way to be black. My biggest frustration was that I only wanted to perform.

Racist acts on campus varied, from the “N” word being written on cars to Black Student Association(BSA) posters being defaced to members of the student body threatening me and other BSA board members. What stemmed from that experience was me attending therapy and suffering from depression. I usually had an optimistic disposition so to be judged for constantly doing my best and not being relatable enough for the stereotype people had stuck in their brains made me feel shattered. It was an odd time. I was one of the lucky ones that finished strong and earned my degree; however it did not come without a fight.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
When you love what you are doing, it is never work. I won the Pasadena Idol at 16. At 18, I won the National Gold Medal for a Vocal Contemporary selection at NAACP ACT-SO. I have been recording music independently since 2011 and writing songs for other artists. My original music is available on streaming platforms under Chelsea J. I have performed at the NAACP Image Awards, Whisky-A-Go-Go, and multiple lounges across LA. I love being in the studio. The recording process for me, is like ping pong playing with different ideas and seeing what works. I think it can also be like doing yoga. You have to be loose and open because you can go in with one idea and then hear something that inspires you and the arrangement can shift from the original lyrical structure. When I recorded my first EP Baby Girl, I had to arrive at the studio each day with an open mind; even when I had the skeleton prepared, the canvas is never quite filled with the details. I really love creating, which is a good thing since this new opportunity with SheaButter&Popcorn podcast has opened my eyes to numerous possibilities from curating episodes weekly and editing.

It was not until the summer after graduation that I realized I never really indulged in a hobby: my friends always called me trivia queen. I used a niche party trick, my ability to retain information and fun facts, and turned it into a fun project with my friend from college. SheaButter&Popcorn is a film reviewing podcast that has just started Season 4. I get to have fun with my friend and we can talk about why we love the craft of acting and how it is an art form accessible to everyone. Singing and acting are always my passions, and I am always pushing myself to evolve, so I am excited to see what the other side of directing and editing allow me to create.

I started the column “Pretty Pioneer” in a blog form in Texas; in California, it morphed into a monthly newsletter. Stemming from that, I curated a Walk for Confidence in 2013 gathering youth from elementary and middle schools. The first “day job” I had was as a columnist for The Pasadena Journal for their Youth Page, focused on youth empowerment and anti-bullying. This past summer I attended peaceful George Floyd protests in West Hollywood with my college friends, and I spoke and sang at the rally. I have attended my fair share of protests, marching in solidarity after the senseless killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice to name a few. I ended my newsletter after college, and started a new blog called Tailored Sunflower which is more or less a brain dump with punctuation. I think what makes my journey unique is the way seemingly disconnected events accumulated in my life and me allowing the process of self-discovery to occur through my creation of art. I am resilient and use obstacles as stepping stones. I always do my best and give it everything I got no matter what. Those are a few of my affirmations, and I think you can be motivated but you must also be disciplined. Because everyone is human and you will not feel motivated all the time, you have to have a passion for your art like muscle memory. I mentioned yoga before, and it’s true! When you do not feel like doing something, you have to do it anyway to maintain that practice. You have to exercise those muscles otherwise they will atrophy.

Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
Even though I consider myself an ambivert now, in my adolescence I was much more of an introvert and had a small circle of friends. I think my observant nature translated into me not always filling up the space with conversation. I was a very good listener though, and know how to be there for my friends when needed. There is always room for improvement in every facet of life. And as I push myself to evolve, my passions, singing and acting, along with my need to create allowed me to break out of my adolescent shell.

I am a one on the enneagram which basically means I am a constant recovering perfectionist. I was definitely an optimistic cheerful person growing up. I always asked questions, and was very curious about the world around me. I had compassion for people at an early age; among my peers, I assumed the role of the “mom friend”. I am definitely a workaholic, and I thrive when busy or working. Nothing in life will ever be perfect, though (hence the “recovering perfectionist” LOL). I wear my emotions on my sleeve and growing up, I was told that I care too much to a fault. A way that I liked to unwind aside from listening to music was baking. I love making desserts and trying new things in the kitchen, just experimenting. I love all things lemon, but I taught myself how to create any kind of dessert: cakes, dessert bars, cookies, fruit mousses. I also enjoy cooking different dinner recipes like baked cabbage with bacon and bleu cheese crumbles, or blackened chicken with jalapeño cornbread, or lasagna with sautéed mushrooms and Brussel sprouts. Baking was a way to center myself when everything else from social injustices to critics at school left me feeling out of control. I hope one day to be as good a cook as my mother and father who used to have their own restaurant in Texas.

I grew up with a phenomenal support system and I am honored to carry them with me as I continue striving to be my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

 

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