Antoinette Montague is a jazz singer who is equally inspired by classic tunes and Civil Rights. Originally from Newark, New Jersey, she was the youngest of eight children in a music-loving family. Antoinette is now a professional singer who has won numerous awards. When she is not performing live, Antoinette is busy running the Jazz Woman to the Rescue Foundation which she started to encourage the public to donate their old instruments and art supplies to schools in communities who have no music or art programs. Antoinette advocates, mentors and encourages singers and musicians of all levels and instructs for Jazz at Lincoln Center's Gateway MBA /Music program which invites people from around the world to learn the invaluable communication and group dynamics of a jazz band. Antoinette was a protégé and power of attorney for the legendary Carrie Smith and she was also a protégé of Etta Jones. Recently, she spoke to AXS about her experiences as a musician and her hopes for the future:
AXS: How and when did you decide to become a musician?
Antoinette Montague (AM): I loved singing from an early age, 5. I knew at 16 I wanted to be a great singer.
AXS: Growing up, what kinds of music interested you?
AM: I'm the last of eight children with a wide household age span. I liked Louise Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, Dianna Ross, Dionne Warwick, James Brown, Michael Jackson. Jimmie Hendrix, Paul Robeson, and my mother, Pecola Montague.
AXS: How would you describe your music and what inspires it?
AM: Jazz and Blues of encouragement. Duke Ellington encouraged artists to be beyond category, so I am willing to visit a few tunes outside of jazz, to bring them in and pull the blues or sensibility of swing out of them.
AXS: How did you go about finding places to perform?
AM: People find and invite me, thank goodness, after seeing and hearing me. Actively singing, promoting, getting more daring, delivering the best entertainment and singing from the heart, gets folks inspired to present you to their audiences. Some say I'm one of the hardest working women in NY jazz and blues. I say I'm one of the most grateful ones to get the opportunity and try to maximize it.
AXS: How did you get involved with NYC Parks?
AM: I have been a regular performer on the great Jazz Mobile Summer Fest. Robin Bell-Stevens connected me to the NYC Parks. She tells the audiences that they will be thoroughly entertained by the Antoinette Montague Experience.
AXS: Out of all your music, do you have a favorite song? What is your favorite song, period?
AM: Hard to select one. “Good Times Roll” which is a celebration-of-life tune that brings me and the audience together and we party! It's a tie between a song I wrote a prayer/wish for the world, "And So It Is" and the blues “Drink Muddy Water.” I've had requests for “Summer Song” by Dave Brubeck on my CD Behind The Smile that I did a duet with the late great Mulgrew Miller,
AXS: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your musical career?
AM: There are so many. Singing and loving on people throughout the world, Russia, South Korea, Israel... Selling out NJPAC Dorthaans Place and taking people on a musical, jazz, blues and soulful experience that I hope lifts and soothe their soul. Also getting air play on jazz radio everywhere but especially at home in Newark on WBGO; bringing more Love at a time when we need it most. Performing for Jazz Mobile, The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts w Mercedes Ellington, The Urban Leagues Youth Leadership Conference for Jazz at Lincoln Center where I got the privilege of sharing my Civil Rights based music with the young folks, and watching the embrace it, and rein vision it; jazz drama workshop. Helping to start several ongoing Jazz Festivals (The Ridgewood Jazz Fest, Eleuthera Jazz Fest, International Women in Jazz ). That and my board work, advisory board work and new involvement with The Friars as a member.
AXS: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become a musician, especially for the children’s entertainment industry?
AM: Get to your anointed, spiritual singing and or playing of your instrument. Have a positive message or some real truth to what you have to say in your music without being preachy. Sing or play as much and everywhere you can. Appreciate people and thank people who help you.. Don't forget where you started. Love your family. Appreciate them. Create a community. Let the arts refine you. Be in the musical service to humanity. Be your word. Pay fairly, and ask to be paid fairly. Lift the standard, be the change. Try to honor the elders. Elders love the young, if they'll let you. Try new things. Deal w change. Study and find a supportive and encouraging guide. Listen, listen, listen; Duke Ellington said he was the world’s greatest listener! Open up and connect with your heart and soul! WORK! Run your best race. Try not to compare yourself to other folks. Who knows what they sacrificed they made or price they paid to get there. Perhaps they are obligated to their own mystery. Try not to compare yourself, but it's hard not to measure. We're humans. If you want to be great, keep striving for it. It's your life. Go for it. Nothing comes easy for everyone. Stop complaining about everything. Yes it's hard, but it's worth it. Turn stage fright into stage excite. Take piano. Play the room you are in, not the one you think it should be just on your set list. Entertain the audience, not just yourself or your band mates. Have a mission. Let an anointed loving spirit be your source. It will move and inspire people. Pick songs you love that love you back and work well for you, that have something inspiring to say. Dance! Smile. Dress like you care about the folks coming to see you.
AXS: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
AM: Yes The Charlie Parker Festival in NYC, The Antoinette Montague Experience with some of my favorite musicians and fav Jazz Mobile friends I love working with Danny Mixon, Stanley Banks, Melissa Slocum, Bobby Sanabria, Winnard Harper, Solomon Hicks and others. Also, the Fairburn Music Fest on September 23 and the Newark Museum holiday series on December 4. I look forward to more opportunities. World Peace in the Key of Jazz!
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To learn more about Antoinette Montague visit her official website.