The other night I went to an event at the Plaza Hotel here in NYC. I entered into the glorious, lavishly abundant hotel I had always loved as a child. I loved it’s majesty, it’s grandeur and it’s feeling that “anything is possible if you just believe”. Even the lobby smelled like fresh orchids and gardenias. I felt so incredibly elevated and euphoric at it’s beauty. I felt like I was in the perfect place, at the perfect time. I felt at home in it’s wonder. What I loved so much about that night was to be entering the hotel lobby as a woman but remembering the first time I saw this hotel as a child. It was as if all roads had led me back to here, back to my six year old self seeing it for the first time-full of wonder and joy.
I remember that first day vividly. The limo pulling up in front of the hotel with two well known singing superstars, the crowds bustling in wonder hoping to get a glimpse, the excitement and commotion that thrilled me, I wondered, “who could it be?” but we were unable to see as we rushed through the crowds to get to the Paris movie theater where Thumbelina was playing. My mom was taking me to see it. It was our special date afternoon.
As a child I always loved musicals from early on. From Disney movies, to live music, to Broadway. Lucky for me, my good fortune blessed me to have parents that loved theater and the Arts. I remember seeing the WIZ with Stephanie Mills, Godspell, Carousel, the Music Man, then as the years went on Evita, A Chorus line, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, to name a few. I grew up believing in the Magic of the music to heal and transcend anything. The minute the orchestra began to play, I was transported and lifted through song to another place, a better place, a more beautiful, mystical and magical place.
As the years went on, I played flute in band and landed all the lead roles in my school plays. Singing came naturally to me because Broadway musicals were always being played in my home. The music always at volume 500 (Thanks Dad. LOL), Evita being chanted throughout the halls to my brothers and my bedroom on christmas eve (Yes most kids get Christmas songs, we got Evita’s death scene. LOL) but I knew every line to that album and loved it. I loved it so much that I wrote my school report on Eva Peron at 9 years old (Perhaps also because she was a strong Latina woman). After school, I would even stand and sing on the chair to replicate the balcony scene of “Don’t cry for me Argentina”, very dramatic and fully embodied. I loved to live inside the magic of the music, to that place inside me where I felt it’s majesty, a place where there was no one was fighting, there were no arguments but only love and song. I always felt the love in my heart when I sang, as if a portal of love opened up and in the column of light I was protected from any harm. In that light, I knew only the song of Love. I was able to express the fullness of my hearts desire.
In contrast, when I was around six years old my parents separated for the first time. I say first time because they separated many times throughout my childhood before they eventually separated for good when I was eleven years old. The final separation came during the year we were living in Mexico city and I was attending the American school. I was so happy that year because we lived in a big beautiful home, I loved my school and more importantly, I was doing what I loved which was singing. I was helping to create magic in the world. However, I was there the day my parents had their final fight which ended it all. I heard them arguing from upstairs and even as I write this now, I feel a pain in my heart because I know they were both in a lot of pain. Two amazing, beautiful people who tried to stay together for us kids, but it was at the expense of living a lie. They just weren’t meant for each other. They did the best they could with who they were at that time and as an adult, I feel great compassion for their situation. I feel great compassion for each of them because I know in the wisdom of my heart, that like everyone else, they deserve happiness and love. Every living being on this planet is worthy and deserving of love.
Needless to say while all this was going on, I found my healing and love in musicals and music. At 11 years old I landed the lead in The American Schools HS musical as Oliver in Oliver Twist and began doing radio interviews at radio stations, promoting the play. At 15yrs, I won a music scholarship to Switzerland representing the United States in their International program, which was my first trip away from home for three months (in the beautiful town of Leysin in the Swiss Alps). Singing opened a path of happiness for me. It was a dream come true to travel to the other side of the world to sing! Through my voice, my dreams were coming true.
Upon returning to my High School (Marin Catholic High school in Marin county, California), I was asked by Father Parenti to sing all the music for mass at our church services. I would sing all the “our fathers”, Amy Grant songs and of course contemporary songs which embodied the message of Love. Once again, music was uplifting, inspiring and taking us all to a more beautiful place. Upon graduating from HS, I received a Musical theater scholarship to University. I loved the magic of it all. Doors opening and a path revealing itself.
After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles, California to work for the #1 Spanish Radio Station (KLVE 107.5fm). To land this job shortly after graduating, was a true blessing. It was during this year that my love of Latin Music began to blossom (of course not to mention my mom playing Miami Sound Machine (Gloria Estefan) on the way to HS school everyday). When I arrived to Los Angeles and people began to speak to me in Spanish, it was as if my heart was activated in a way it had never been before. It was the feeling of HOME. By day I was working as the asst. to the program director of the radio station with Adrian Lopez (funny enough he was from Argentina-just like Evita) and in that position, I was in charge of dealing with the Record label reps and the Recording Artists. I remember my first day at the station, MANA (An amazing rock band from Mexico) came in for a radio interview to promote their album. Their band was unknown at the time. However within that year, they blew up onto the music scene. As well, Ricky Martin was promoting his new album (He was still in General Hospital), Marc Anthony, La India and Celia Cruz were all hot on the scene. It was a thrill to be close to the music!
By day, I was working at the Radio station and by night I was singing with my brothers rock band at the local rock clubs- the Coconut teaser, the Troubadour, etc. In a playful way, Adrian (my Argentian boss), would always let me leave early by saying, “Che Querida, Tu eres una Artista (Darling, You are an Artist), go sing!” and I did! Then one night I had a dream that I would later come to understand. I dreamed that I was in a plane with Luis Miguel, Marc Anthony, La India, etc (They were all Latin Artists) and I was flying with them. Then the plane flew into a huge stadium. As we de-boarded the plane, I got onto the stage to sing in english, but then my voice switched to singing in spanish and the crowd went wild, cheering. I awoke confused by it all because I was singing with a rock band in english. I had never sang in spanish before. (This dream was a foreshadowing to the music that would later become a part of my life’s path and joy). As fate would have it, a few years later, I was touring around the world with Dark Latin Groove (DLG) in huge stadiums in Latin America. It was not until I was in Peru in a stadium of 65,000 people singing in spanish that I remembered the dream and understood it’s soul message, but that comes later. Needless to say, It was an amazing year in Los Angeles working at the radio station. I loved what I was doing, all of it!
One morning however, I went to work and there was a lot of commotion outside my office door. The assistant to the President of the radio station came in to take me into the Presidents office. I had no idea what was going on, but as I sat in the chair before the President of the station, he said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but your father died this morning in New York (NYC was three hours ahead and my father was a well known man and a pioneer in the Spanish Advertising industry, so there had been buzz and commotion on the east coast about his passing). I just remember saying, “No, That can’t be. It’s not possible, he was going to move to California to be with us. I just spoke with him last night”, I could hear my voice in the distance almost as if I was in the other room. I had left my body and was now hovering above myself in complete shock. His assistant grabbed me close and I just remember her crying with me. We were both sobbing together and even though we didn’t know each other well at that time, I will never forget the feeling of being held in such loving compassion. Then just as I felt myself coming back into my body, someone came in and said, “Your mom is on the phone.” My mom had been trying to call in to speak with me but because the radio station was so popular, she kept being put on hold. Finally I heard her voice and sobbed and sobbed. In one day, it felt like my life and the world as I knew it, was shattered into a thousand pieces. My father and I were very close growing up. I loved him with all my heart. My heart was broken. I was in complete shock and nothing in my life after that day was ever the same.
As time went on I began having very vivid dreams. I dreamed I was drowning in a pool trying to stay above water (I’m sure I was trying to deal with my emotions), then I dreamed with my father and he came to dance with me in black tuxedo (the way we always did at Univision and Telemundo parties), then came a very significant dream that changed my life. In that dream, I saw my father in the distance, completely illuminated. I ran up to him and sat before him. I was frantic and really needing answers. I said, “Dad, now that you are on the other side, what do I do with my life?” I waited with baited breath, I needed to know. He paused, looked at me and began to laugh hysterically. I was so upset, I mean, this was really serious business and I needed an answer, how could he be laughing? and with that he looked at me straight in the eyes with a clear and honest gaze, smiled at me and said, “Anything that makes you happy!” Wait, what? I could feel within myself my mind struggling to accept this answer. The answer was completely different than what I had expected to hear from him, and then I looked at him straight in the eyes and said, “That’s it? Anything that makes me happy?” and he said very calmly, “Yes, that’s it. Anything that makes you happy” and then I woke up.
For several weeks, I contemplated this thought, “what makes me happy? What makes me happy?” He said, “Anything that makes me happy.” and for months I did only that. I only did what made me happy and I began to heal my heart from his loss. I found myself watching romantic comedies, doing aerobics and my favorite-listening to Latin music all day and night, dancing and singing every lyric at the top of my lungs. These love songs helped me to express my heart in a way I had never before. The sound flowing through me deep and passionate. It was a new way to express myself. I could feel the warmth of my heart ignited with the sensuality of the sound of the words, the depth of their meaning, the richness of my latin heritage now breathing life through me. The roots were growing deep inside me into the core of the earth. I was now connected to my ancestors and to all those who had come before me. I felt connected to my heart, to my father, to myself in a way I had not before.
Then I made the decision, I was going back to NYC to continue to pursue my love of music, to take classes again at HB studio and to follow my heart and happiness. Latin music had ignited my heart and that is what was making me happy. In making that decision and in choosing the courage to take this leap of faith, God granted me a wish and that wish was fulfilled. As golden fate would have it, on the same plane as I was, was Ralph Mercado (the Quincy Jones of Latin Music). I had met him months earlier working for KLVE when my boss Adrian introduced us ( Ralph was there with Celia Cruz promoting her new album), but here we were in the same place at the same time-Again. As I stood in the airport, I was not going to say anything to him, when I heard a voice deep inside me say, “Go say hello to him”. I fought with this voice inside me, feeling shy, when again the voice said, “Go say hello to him.” So here I was at 5am in the morning (just off the red eye from Los Angeles), walking up to him and saying, “Excuse me, are you Ralph Mercado?” and with that beautiful smile he said, “Why, Yes I am” and in that moment, my new career and path opened up right before my eyes.
In that one “hello”, the universe had aligned me to the path of my new destiny. Through my courage to speak to Ralph that day, I met Jack Hooke, Tito Puente’s Manager and president of Tropijazz Records (Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Mongo Santamaria, Dave Valentin, Ray Barreto, Humberto Ramirez, etc) and became Jack’s asst. Then within a year, I was promoted to Ralph Mercado’s asst. (RMM Records was the record label who had great artists as Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, La India, Oscar d’Leon, etc) and within two years of arriving to NYC, I was the asst to the President of the top Salsa label in the world with Salsa and Latin Jazz’s greatest Artists. I was in Heaven! I felt so blessed and I was doing what made me happy! I thought, “Yes dad, it works”…What I am supposed to be doing with my life is what makes me happy! His advice was guiding me, even from the other side.
During my beginning years in NYC, by day I was working at the Record label helping the Artists and by night I was singing out at various venues throughout NYC and studying at Carnegie Hall, as well as working with local singer/songwriters. Then one day our A&R Rep at RMM heard my voice and booked me on one of the albums they were recording for a Latin Hip Hop group called “Tres Equis”. Shortly after, Charlie Sepulveda, one of our Latin Jazz Artists, booked me to record backups on his album on the Mongo Santamaria song “Watermelon man” (making my first professional recording on a Record label, singing back ups with Tito Nieves).
In my courage to follow my happiness, the universe put me in the right place, at the right time. Yes, It’s true the universe moves to help us have our dreams come true to our level of commitment and intention. At the same time, I was also getting many callbacks for Rent on Broadway, which brought me to a crossroads- do I stay at the Record label supporting other artists or do I take a leap of faith and pursue my dream with the fullness of my heart?
The following day, I entered Ralphs office to speak with him about it. Over my time at RMM, Ralph had become like a father to me. He treated everyone in his inner circle like family and having daughters of his own, I knew I could have a heart to heart talk with him. So with the encouragement of my musician friends whom I had grown close to, I went to Ralph and spoke with him about my dream to sing and perform. After hearing me, Ralph looked at me and said, “I would never tell you not to follow your dream, in fact, I believe you HAVE to follow your dream. We love you here and you will always have a place here with us. You are part of my family. Go follow your dream and if you change your mind, just come back. You have an open door here. It doesn’t mean we won’t miss you because we will, but you have to give it a shot and I support you in that decision.”
That day Ralph taught me a great lesson about what true love is, it is allowing others to follow whats in their hearts, even at the expense of losing them, even if we think they might be making a mistake. It is their life to live and if we truly love, we support them in their decision and hold an open space if it doesn’t work out. We don’t shut doors, we hope for the best and highest good for them. I appreciated Ralph’s love and I knew no matter what he supported my decision and that meant a lot to me. Two weeks later the staff threw a big going away party for me with cake and balloons and I walked out the door wondering if I had made the right decision. Knowing I had to risk it all-now or never.
Those first few months away from the label were hard, but I continued to audition and take my performance classes with fierce determination. I spent a lot of time with my musician friends in jazz clubs. Then finally after taking this leap of faith, one night I was at the Blue Note in the dressing room with friends when the door opened and Ruben , a friend I knew from recording sessions with the label, walked in and said he was now the Musical Director of a new group called Dark Latin Groove. Then my musician friend blurted out, “Well if you ever need a back up singer, Jennifer can do it. She is the one. She is a great singer.” Honestly, I never thought much would come of it but to my surprise a few weeks later Ruben called and said they needed me to do back ups for DLG and that I had to learn both albums by the weekend. As well that very same day, Vaughn, a songwriter I had been working with, said that the song I had recorded on for him had been loved by Sony Columbia. Vaughn continued, “Sony said they love the song and they love the girl, which is you, so they want to sign you.” All in one day, everything changed, again! Within a few weeks, I was on the road and singing in huge concerts and stadiums all over the world as the featured female vocalist with DLG. I even had the blessed opportunity to perform at Coliseo Callao in Lima, Peru with my uncle and my fathers family in the first row. It felt as if my father was with me knowing I had “Followed my Bliss”. My voice and my love of latin music had taken me to the dream I had dreamed years before. It was a complete deja vu moment. Full circle.
Those years touring were blessed and my song “What is it” (Que Tu Tienes) came out on KTU, but came to even greater success on the Latin MIX USA2 album with Ricky Martin, Shakira, Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez and Will Smith. However my favorite moment during those years was performing at “Concierto del Amor”, a concert that RMM produced every year at in NYC. As I entered onto the stage at Madison Square Garden (which was my ultimate dream at the time), Ralph Mercado stood at the steps leading up to the stage. As I went to walk up those stairs, Ralph stood there and beamed at me, looked down through his glasses with sparkling eyes and said, “You’re up kid!” then hugged me. I felt so happy knowing that I had fulfilled one of my dreams. He believed in me and was there to witness my dream coming true. He told me to go for it and it paid off. Both of us had a moment of celebration. I will never forget that moment as long as live. It is forever in my heart.
At those concerts, the feeling of having the vibration of thousands of people singing songs in unity, the roar of the crowd and the happiness of the music to uplift and inspire people left me knowing what I always knew as a child- that I was part of something bigger, that we are all a part of something bigger, an “orchestra of love”, each playing our own part. Each part being important to the whole, like puzzle pieces fitting together when we are in alignment with our souls purpose, with our spirits calling, with our hearts song. I knew I was fulfilling my purpose of uplifting the planet through the power of music, the power of sound, the power of following my heart and living my dream. This was just a continuation of the incredible joy and healing power of music that I had experienced throughout my life, in whatever form of artistic expression it came. Through the Arts and my souls creative self expression, I have been able to experience my great love of music, travel and creativity. This is what makes me happy!
As I look back on my six year old self that stood in front of the Plaza Hotel that day with my mom, I realize how many of my dreams have been fulfilled throughout my life (and how many I have left to fulfill, which grow and evolve throughout the years). I honor and celebrate all of the journey, all of the synchronicities, the good times and the bad times because they have made me who I am today. I strive to live my life with no regret and to risk and push past society’s idea of happiness, to live my idea of happiness. I realize it is mine to allow myself to be who I want without needing anyone’s approval or permission. I claim and accept that this is my life to live-this beautiful gift given to me by my creator and what I create with this time is my gift back. My art is my life and my life is my art, there is no separation. Every day is a new creation. Every day is a new beginning. Every day is an new act of love.
As I tell my student/clients that I currently coach , “Whatever makes you happy, do that. You will be good at what you love.” and then we work to release and dismantle all the programming that has gotten in the way of being our truest and most authentic self. The great masters knew that and now I do too with the fullness of my heart. Happiness is the goal, the journey is supposed to be fun. I encourage you to have the courage to follow the dream in your heart and take one action towards it today. Sometimes just one “hello” can change your life! May you live a life you love and live it abundantly.
P.s.Thank you to my father, Adrian Lopez, Jack Hooke, Ralph Mercado and Tito Puente for helping me to fulfill my dreams and for extending a hand to lift me up. Thank you for being father figures and great friends to me after I lost my dad. May you all be together in heaven. You are always in my heart ❤
Blessings to all who read this ❤
P.s.s. Here is the link to the work I am currently offering with my vocal coaching and sound sessions. https://lakshmilatina.wordpress.com/private-sound-sessions/