Monique DeBose: Carrying the Torch for Black Girl Magic

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Monique DeBose is a mixed-race woman who spent most of her life oscillating between two worlds, that of her African American father and her Irish American mother. She has spent so much of her life doing the internal work to embrace all the parts of herself, to shift from living life in black and white to living life in full color, accepting and loving who she is as a whole and not one or the other. In addition to music, she has channeled these tools and what she has learned about living an authentic life into a rewarding and successful career as a coach — working with people who have a vision for their life and feel that they more them to give, to find their authentic voice.

DeBose recently released a new single “Brown Beauty” as a “love song to Black women and all women of color.” Learn more about the “Brown Beauty” movement on Instagram HERE and read more about her inspiration for the single in our recent interview with her.

Monique DeBose on latest single “Brown Beauty”

What’s your name and pronouns, where are you from, and what instrument do you play?

My name is Monique DeBose. My pronouns are she and her. I’m from Los Angeles, California, and I’m a vocalist and play the piano.

How long have you been playing, and when did you know you wanted to be a musician?

I’ve always known I wanted to be a performer. I felt like from a very young age, I wanted to be a performer. Believe it or not, as a young person, I thought music was a safe way to be a performer. As I delve deeper into music, of course, it’s not the safe way — you’re so vulnerable and exposed no matter what creative art you do. I grew up playing violin, much to my chagrin, and piano. I started probably in my like early teenage years. But I would never accompany myself out still.

What is the best part about being a musician?

The best part about being a musician is being able to tap into this frequency and energy that moves, transcends all the bulls–t, all the pretenses, and all the masks we wear. So it transcends that. So that, to me, is one of the amazing things about being a musician. Another great piece is just being able to live in the vibration of sound within my body, as my body’s an instrument as a voice. And then the other piece — there’s two more pieces that show up. Something else that’s really great about it is that I get to be in collaboration with other people who were also living in that frequency, or allowing themselves to be vulnerable enough to be vehicles for music or for energy to move through them, and express through them. It’s so wonderful to do that with other people. One because it just elevates the whole experience, and two, it also lets you know you’re not alone in this beautiful, vulnerable space. And then last is being able to be a vehicle or tool for others to have this transformational experience. Like that is such an honorable role — like a sacred thing. So those are all the best parts about being a musician to me.

What do you think of when you hear “Black History Month”?

Well, it’s not a joke, people, like we only get a month. I don’t know what I think about that. I feel like, in a way, I understand the reason for it; there’s a clear spotlight shining on the contributions of African Americans in our country. And at the same time, I’m in a place where it’s always Black history and education and celebration in my household and in my world. I’m constantly educating myself, learning history that has been erased or hidden. And I want that for my children moving forward and for my nieces and nephews. So those are my thoughts on that.

Why do you think the world needs to learn about our Black History?

Because it exists. Because people walk around with very flimsy ideas about what Black people contribute to the world and who Black people are because a lot of history has been erased and whitewashed. And it really just spills out. The strength, the courage, the resilience, the ingenuity, the wisdom, the love, the joy — it just fills out the human being, and Black people deserve that. It’s really kind of ridiculous, actually, that this is even a question to have to be asked to me. But it really speaks to the power of the narrative of people who have held power for so long. And the destruction that can happen when the narrative is in only one group of people’s hands.

Is there a specific Black creative that inspires you? Why?

There are a ton. One that comes to mind presently is Ella Fitzgerald. One, because she came from really challenging circumstances, but also that she — I think she says her story is she went to the Apollo Theater in New York for the talent night as a dancer. I think she said she saw the acts before her, and she was like, ‘Oh, I’m not a dancer,’ and she decided to sing. There’s something about the way she sings and can bounce off of notes that is really inspiring to me. And that she was able to sing with the Chick Webb Orchestra, and from a very young age, just take care of her business. That, to me, was quite amazing. So, she’s one of them.

And there’s just so many artists who inspire me. I’m going to give you three more. Mahalia Jackson, who is a gospel singer. I recently witnessed a performance of hers in a documentary that Questlove [Ahmir “Questlove” Johnson] produced called Summer of Soul. It had footage of a concert that happened in New York, in Harlem, in 1969. Just to witness somebody who let themselves be fully taken over, by spirit, by music, by what’s coming through, that has been really inspiring.

Nina Simone is another amazing musician who, again, had so much pitted against her — she trained as a classical pianist but was not allowed to be a classical pianist because she was a Black woman. And through that hardship, she really transformed and made music that really spoke to the times. I think she said that is the job of an artist. She’s such a phenomenally powerful example of that to me.

And then last, Tracy Chapman. I want to say both of them together for different reasons — they have different styles of music, and they appeal to different groups of people, perhaps — they both have their own unique way. But the thing that they have in common that really inspires me is that they make seemingly simple songs. Their voices are simple. And to me, that’s a real gift for me as a vocalist, and a songwriter, because I feel like I live in that same area.

For me, just a simple voice. It’s the message of the song. To me, that’s really beautiful and inspiring and encouraging. Also, I grew up listening to people like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Being able to have these other voices really balanced me, and that was very inspiring.

Why do you think it is important to pay homage to the Black creatives that came before us?

Because in paying respect, it really allows me to know that there is an energetic line that continues way beyond before I showed up. And it will continue way beyond after I have moved on from this planet. So it allows us to feel connected, and it allows us to feel like we’re not alone and that we don’t have to create, lift, and build from ground zero. So that’s one reason speaking about it for the individual.

And then for the people we’re paying respect to, I feel like it’s important because they did the damn thing. They really stepped out on a limb and were courageous. They put in the hours and had to experience the discomfort, not just in terms of the creative process but also in terms of the roadblocks that they faced. There’s a real value in honoring somebody’s journey.

What is your current studio and (when we get back to live shows) live performance set up? Is it any different?

Since I’m a vocalist, my current studio is a microphone attached to my computer in my office; I’ve got Logic on my desktop. But all of the recording, like the serious professional recording, happens in someone else’s studio. I create ideas on my iPhone. So it’s that kind of thing.

And then live, I have done some live shows on Zoom, which has been really weird. It’s been my iPhone attached to like an iRig mic setup; I’ve got an 8 or 12 channel I will attach to my mixing board and then play instrumental tracks through one of my channels on my computer because I was doing it by myself. Then my microphone would be attached to that. So I get a somewhat decent balanced sound between the live track and my vocal.

I also did a live stream performance with a full band once during COVID. There was an engineer on the other side of the computer who helped track everything for me; we had a drum kit, upright bass, keyboards, and then me on vocals.

What does it mean to be a Black womxn to you?

I feel so honored that I get to be a part of this group. I’m a mixed Black woman, so that comes with its own interesting nuances for me specifically (I can’t speak for anybody else) where I live in multiple worlds — I really do. So that’s always an extra layer for me to navigate. But it means pride. It means gratitude. It’s a really beautiful world, and I get to have access. And I’m sure every human gets this. So for me, I get to have access to every part of myself. And that feels like a real gift.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to your eight-year-old self looking up to the adult version of you?

I can see her. She’s so sweet. She’s so shy. She’s so scared of everything. She has the desire to do so many things. So the advice I would give her is though the world is a big place, you came in this unique package. So take advantage of every aspect of it. I would tell her, you are a divine being having a human experience, and you have a right to exist. So live your best life. It’s okay to be scared, but that fear does not need to be the motivation for why you do or don’t do things.

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