Who’s this girl who graces the cover of Chispa Magazine’s inaugural issue? Is she famous? Is she the next reality television icon? Does she have a filthy-rich tycoon Daddy? Intriguing with suspense, we inquire on the who and what’s on the agenda. But what happens when we get an invitation to go behind the scenes of her album’s photo shoot? A whole lot, it turns out. In these remarkably warm and unguarded portraits, photographer Sandra Valenzuela captures Black for who she is: sublime, joyful, and chic with a touch of edge.
As she sits down for the interview in a sunlit room, Debra Black apologizes for perhaps seeming a little drained. But if the up-and-coming artist is overwhelmed, or if she’s savoring this rare break from round-the-clock meetings to finalize all aspects of her album, she doesn’t show it. She brightly mentions that she just might add one more song to the mix.
Today, when Black talks about her life, her new album (which will launch August 12th), and what makes her strong, she does so freely and openly. Debra Black approaches music with a single goal: “to move people,” says the 28-year-old artist.
Her world—a pastel-swathed moving car ride from one location to the next morphs into a productive day of authentic conversations, confirmed radio launches, and promising whispers from Her Father; meet and greets; a beamed-to-capacity all-girl concert series—are just some of the extra additives Black adds to her ever-so-normal workweek. And that’s no accident. “I’ve been training since I was a child,” Black says.
Although, to date, her work has been decidedly for amusement, her latest project involves sweat equity, cashing out on most of her savings, and taking the leap of blinded faith all to feature God in all seasons of her life.
Black had an early career as a singer, but she wouldn’t call herself an artist until recently. Neither did she think of herself as a songwriter, until someone challenged her to write four years ago. Rather, the New Jersey-born daughter of opera luminary Pamela Black and the pioneer of laughter Wallace Black simply sees herself as someone “who does things,” albeit with enviably chic style, and love.
Her album, “God in Every Season,” was birthed by a conversation with a friend/studio manager. “He asked if I ever thought about recording,” says Black. Planting a seed in her mind Black admits she began to pray. The door opened for her to start recording, and soon enough this journey became a goal fused with challenges. “Obviously without a label providing funds, it took the Lord providing the money for me to do this.”
What started out as an independent four song EP turned into a 10 song full-length album. And regarding all aspects of the business, Black relinquished this control to Him who throughout the entire process has taught, strengthened, and uplifted her with an in-depth relationship. So, who’s this girl? She says:
“I love people. That is my mantra. I as a woman or artist try and make it my mission to love people well. In order to do this I have to consider people above myself, thinking of Philippians 2 “seeking to the interest of the other person,” which counteracts the cultural way of thinking which is me, myself, and I. Yet, this is a daily discipline, a moment by moment decision. Do I choose to pick up this call or do I simply ignore the phone ringing because I’m watching the “Shark Tank” season finale? Being aware of your surroundings and the people in your life is hard work. What do they love, what do they need? How can I serve them well, prayerfully, or tangibly? What are the daily interactions I encounter with strangers, giving a smile, taking the time to look a passerby in the eyes, asking someone at the checkout counter how they are… considering that people matter to God and thus they should matter to me? Is this not how Jesus lived His life? He sought people out, and stopped for people, he made himself approachable and available; He made time. Oh yes, the four-letter-word we all say we can’t get enough of. I think we can get on the mission of forgetting what life really is about; the actual things that are eternal—people. Debra as the woman, wants to make loving people her purpose, Debra as an artist, wants to make loving people her purpose.”
Q: Pedigree of musicians?
A: My mother was an opera singer. She taught piano and singing lessons out of the home I grew up in, till all hours of the night. I remember going to bed at night listening to music through the air vents. Now, while my mom was the professional it was a usual routine that my dad would sing me to sleep. Whether that would be ‘Edelweiss” or “Oh How He Loves You and Me…” the deep, soothing (and on key might I mention) tone of my father’s voice was all I needed to fall asleep. It didn’t take me long to start singing myself, or wanting to. I remember it always being an outlet for me. I would practice songs I would hear over and over in my room for hours, and then perform them on my microphone for my mom or whoever would listen. I tried the piano thing, that didn’t work so well. My brother on the other hand played the guitar and learned to play the piano by ear. My voice has been the instrument I have trained and tuned over the years and I have enjoyed challenging myself whether in range or power. Singing in my church at 16, I developed a passion for leading worship and discovered what worship essentially is.
Q: How many trials versus triumphs?
A: Oh the trials…I have learned in the short 28 years of my life that life is a constant change, journey, and full of trials that grow us. I actually wish someone would have told me this is how most of my 20s would be. But nevertheless change brings growth, conflict can breed intimacy, and all things we think are “negative” are what really has the ability to direct us and shape us into the best version of us. Rejection is one persons opinion of us, yet we allow it to change the trajectory of our passions, missions, and goals. I have started viewing trials and rejection as a fuel to drive myself past them and into the place where God is calling me to. I can celebrate because God does most of the strengthening and growing in the times we feel we are in the “desert” or “valley.” He gives us His strength and walks with us during the hardships and says, “I am with you, do not fear, for I will strengthen you and uphold you with my victorious right hand…” That is our God and that is why I can celebrate the trials and accept what comes my way. I am not alone, and I am walking with my God who has already won the battle and comes to my aid to help me fight mine.
Q: Artist or entrepreneur?
A: Two words that definitely have to go together in order to be successful. I have a dream and vision I want to see fulfilled. I have a creative side that needs some structure and goals set in need of an analytical perceptive. Being an artist you have to have an entrepreneurial side in order to keep moving forward. I can sing and have a song, but it’s what I do with them that make me an artist and entrepreneur.
For more of the interview with Debra Black, and photo shoot, order your copy of the August/September issue here.