By Nick Christophers
The saying goes you can take a New Yorker out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of a New Yorker. This is evident with recording artist Marlena who was raised in Queens, New York only to later move to the sunny California. But even with that brave move she never left her roots behind.
From a young girl she was always drawn to music from the soulful sounds of Marvin Gaye to the guitar riffs of the Ramones. Queens has long been known as a “musical hotbed” giving rise to such musical legends, as RUN DMC, 50 Cent and even Tony Bennett. Soul music became the driving force for Marlena as she was influenced by the sounds of Etta James, Al Green and Donna Summer. She eventually immersed herself in music and began performing for whoever would listen. Marlena played in many bands one in particular was called Mischief where they focused on Funk, R&B and Soul.
“This had a tremendous impact on my life, as these soulful sounds were deeply ingrained in my musical ear and psyche. I remembered that I wish I could grow an Afro and wear Hot Pants and perform like Tina Turner. Eventually I did wear those Hot Pants on stage but sadly I never grew that Afro!”
Marlena came from a different kind of upbringing which most performers rarely experience. Her father was a Minister so for him that might have been difficult, but the Rev. Howard H Becker and her mother Mildred Mae were her biggest fans. Her father was a lover of music and enjoyed dancing anytime he had a chance. Along with her two brothers and sister the whole family backed her up and encouraged her to chase her dreams yet at the same time remain true to herself. She even dedicated one of her tracks to her father called “Stormy”
As fate would have it, she and her husband left NYC and moved to California to raise her son, Joe Henry. Realizing that the late hours associated with performing were incompatible with raising a young man, she quit performing and continued singing only in church. Yet the move was difficult for her, adjusting from a fast paced environment to the laid back style of Covina, CA. Eventually, when her son was old enough, she began seeking venues in which to perform. Dark days were on the horizon when she divorced and had to reinvent herself. Time passed and a new love entered her life. Her new man is an integral part of her journey and continues to support her musical career.
Throughout her career she performed at many venues from NYC to CA. One of the most memorable venues was Studio 54. Marlena took the stage there around 1981 with a band called One Times One, which was led by an innovative guitarist, Ralph Trimarchi. The band’s music was considered alternative, a term that is used more often in today’s music industry.
“It was an amazing and exciting experience to play at Studio 54. I secretly arranged for a stretch limousine to pick up my parents and bring them to the show. I told them to dress up in their “Sunday Best” because I had a surprise for them. They arrived at the club and were escorted in privately. The lights were turned down very low and then the show began. With the light beams filling the room and the music starting to build we took the stage. I could see my parent’s faces as they slowly realized it was me up there!”
Marlena attended the School of Art & Design in Manhattan which is known as one of the most prestigious art schools in New York. The school is known for its strict guidelines but Marlena had the talent required to be accepted. She would study General Art and Academics and found her inspiration via one of her teachers, Mr. Greenburg. She never received any formal musical training but singing in her father’s church honed her ability to emote and connect through her vocals.
Women in the music business are constantly judged by their appearance. Even though Marlena tends to shy from anything too provocative she does come off with some sex appeal. Glitter and glamour have been a staple in her performance since she was a young girl. Being classy and sassy all at once adds some excitement to any show.
Marlena’s music soulful as it may be, has a strong Jazz influence. Currently, Jazz has begun an upswing in the industry and the possibility of crossing over into mainstream is on the rise. Even Marlena has been contacted by artists overseas with diverse cultural backgrounds to work on musical collaborations. Many artists are working on doing their own renditions of old classics or fusing the old with the new. Music has no boundaries and the fusion of genres, when done correctly can be a new and fresh sound for people to enjoy.
Presently, she has released a new CD entitled “My Heart To Yours” which was released to rave reviews. Her music has received support on radio stations like “Night Grooves” (Las Vegas) where the radio personality “JazzyMan” had interviewed her. Positive reviews have also came in from Franconia Mettalum Review, Magic Music Magazine Review and Joe Joe Keyes from Indie Music Plus. On the social media end her Twitter page has jumped to 2,000 followers in only two months. Other talented artists have come forward with a desire to collaborate with her. Marlena does have one dream left to conquer, she hopes one day to work on movie soundtracks.
With the current success of the CD (you can check it out on iTunes), she hopes to possibly return to New York and paint the town red with her soulful sounds. Marlena has become a driving force in the Soul / Jazz world, and much like a freight train she wants to continue to move forward. She leaves us with a quote from Charlie Chaplin’s song “Smile”:
“ Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by. If you smile thru your fears and sorrows smile and maybe tomorrow you’ll see the sun coming shining thru for you. Light up your face with gladness, hide every trace of sadness, although a tear maybe ever so near. That’s the time you must keep on trying. Smile what’s the use of crying; you’ll see that life is still worthwhile.”