Born in Pennsylvania and now residing in Chicago, former schoolteacher and Latin recording artist Amaryllis Santiago is soaring skyward with new music, exciting collaborations and a music and art studio that just opened.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
I was always into music, but it wasn’t encouraged growing up. We had a very strict church upbringing and music was considered “of the world.” When I left home at 17, I had no idea of different genres except for the ones we constantly heard like soft rock and disco.
What was your music education like?
It came later in life. Even though I started singing in karaoke clubs at 21 and worked my way up to being in a band, I didn’t get the music until I received a dual Master’s degree in Music Performance and Third Sector [non-profit] Leadership in 2006. I learned about the different styles, cultures and specific genres.
I discovered The Recording Academy through my capstone project and joined the Philadelphia Chapter in 2007; and then was slated as a Governor to represent our Chapter from 2010-2012.
From 2007 until the present, I have made it my personal journey to connect with as many individuals as I can in the industry and learn about each one of them and their musical endeavors.
What’s most important is remaining humble, and being resilient in the music industry with the ability to bounce back and keep moving forward.
What do you consider your first break in the industry?
The “aha moment” came when I heard artists bemoaning how they haven’t been heard by a major label company and didn’t have the fancy things that a lucrative music career would bring.
I learned to define what “making it” means to me. It’s to work hard, be true to oneself while still being open to change, and be happy making a living sharing the gifts that God our Creator entrusted to us.
We are responsible for our own journey.
How close have you come to a Grammy Award?
I have had a few projects up for consideration and made it to the committee rounds, however…no Grammy award yet.
I’m a voting member in the Latin Recording Academy and The Recording Academy and have the privilege of listening to and voting on excellent works inspired by professional artists and musicians.
Being in the academy is not solely about winning a Grammy. There are wonderful opportunities for networking, learning to enhance our music practice, and to collaborate with other colleagues.
The academy provides summer camps, music clinics, internships, and a student affiliation via the Grammy U. The Recording Academy also has services in place to help struggling musicians and artists when life hits hard.
All in all, we are a very tight knit family who genuinely care about each other. Despite how the media may glorify the awards and concentrate on the top categories, there are many other categories that are just as important and prestigious.
What is the Latin jazz scene like in Chi-town?
The music scene in general is OFF THE CHAIN! Chicago’s got it going on with many pubs, festivals, clubs and concerts.
As Amaryllis-The Latin Phoenix – I am considered the “new kid” on the block. There is this misconception that I just rolled onto the scene and am new to the industry.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been keeping a journal of my musical journey since 1995. I have pictures, recordings and experiences to talk about in my upcoming musical autobiography titled “EXTRAordinary Music Love.” Release date is when I WIN THAT GRAMMY! Until then, I will just keep collecting the data and writing about it.
Talk about the ribbon cutting for your music and arts initiative?
The Latin Phoenix ®™ Music and Art Studios is a small, intimate venue that will be used for multiple purposes: artists’ CD releases, visual artists receptions and all things music and art.
Our mission is to build arts and creativity through genuine human understanding, a compassion for community and a shared commonality through music and artistic expression.
Our first event is the ribbon cutting ceremony and an EP Release Party by Char, who is returning to the music scene to tell her story [article to appear on this blog shortly].
Talk about the inspiration for “Sausalito Nights”?
The song “Sausalito Nights” was written by Steve “Jai” Johnson (USA), Egor Shashin (Russia) and Ray Fry (London), who is the owner of Midas King Productions. “Sausalito Nights” is one of fourteen songs that will be released in October. That project is called “Deeply Rooted.”
What has it been like to work with Nick Colionne?
Nick is an awesome and kind gentleman, and extremely humble. He has not let the fact that he charted #1 on the Billboards or that his brand is in high demand cloud the ability to collaborate with an indie artist. Nick is a blessing and a dear musical brother whom I look forward to sharing the stage with.
How did you meet Deepak Chopra and become a panelist for his “Home: Where Everyone Is Welcome”?
On July 26, 2017, I was featured on the title track of “Survivor” of Deepak Chopra‘s new project “Home- Where Everyone is Welcome”- which is inspired by American immigrants and their pursuit of the American dream.
My vocals on this track were inspired by interpreting “survival” which brings to mind a myriad of emotions. I was able to reach in and draw on my family’s personal experiences and journey. I am a first-generation American to parents who emigrated to the USA from Puerto Rico.
Talk about the creative musical effort that the panel produced.
All the artists on our amazing team sent music via the web from our different corners of the world. The music wove a wonderful tapestry of a poetic, musical story. The message in its simplicity is “Home – Where Everyone Is Welcome.”
Where did you teach 6th grade and for how long?
Moving to Chicago to be a teacher was not a goal. It happened to be a part of my life journey. While in Illinois I took tests, went to training seminars and attended meetings to be able to teach. It took about four months to get clearances to be a substitute teacher, and another year to become a licensed Transitional Bilingual Teacher for grades K-12. I taught kindergarten, first grade and sixth grade.
Teaching is something that we all do every day. We choose to learn or not to learn. Being a teacher is where I learned more about myself and others in an intricate setting.
Having the summer break and getting ready to enter my third year as a Dual Language teacher, I realized that music and teaching demanded their own responsibilities and outcomes. Equally important to me, I needed to make a decision.
Although it was a tough decision, I didn’t take it lightly. I knew I was walking away from a salaried position. But after a lot of soul searching, comparing/contrasting the careers and consulting with professionals, I realized I could make a difference out of the classroom.
How did you help the students fall in love with music?
I got the opportunity to foster the love of music and dance through an after-school program I created called “Expressive Dance.” The students picked two songs approved by their parents. They had to learn the lyrics and interpretative creative dance movements in a team and solo setting. We had a dance recital for their parents, community and teachers in December 2016. Sounds of Blackness’ Gary Hines donated t-shirts to the students with the title of their song “Royalty.” It was a special moment that taught the students the value of teamwork, expression, exploration and lyrical interpretation.
- Summer single “Sausalito Nights” featuring Nick Colionne and sponsored by Frank Toohey/Jazz Juice Radio (UK)
- Salsa single “Mala, Mala, Mala!” written for me by Jose Suazo from La Banda Gorda
- “HOME – Where Everyone Is Welcome,” guest artist on Deepak Chopra’s newest project
- “Deeply Rooted” CD project, fall of 2017, sponsored by Frank Toohey/Jazz Juice Radio
- Grand Opening of The Latin Phoenix ®™ Music and Art Studios
New music, new collaborations; to be income-sustainable and happy doing what I love to do.
A venue you have always wanted to perform?
I would love to keep traveling to new locations. I have been to France, Germany, the Dominican Republic and performed in the States.
Favorite city to listen to live music and why?
WOW…too many to mention! Each city has its own vibe and flavor!
What do you want people to know about you that will surprise them?
I was an extremely shy and introverted person before learning about life. Music has helped me tremendously.
I am approachable and have been around for quite a while. I’ve had many fabulous opportunities within the music industry to perform, record, travel and collaborate with iconic artists and industry professionals.
For more information visit www.syllirama.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist
(c) Debbie Burke 2017