Rev. Yolanda: “Do your personal work of self care”

Know Thyself! Understand yourself fully and find your peace of mind. Peace comes when you are not trying to copy someone else or be someone else other than you. When you find that stability within yourself, share with others how you got there without selling them something, or trying to fix them. As a part of […]

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Know Thyself! Understand yourself fully and find your peace of mind. Peace comes when you are not trying to copy someone else or be someone else other than you. When you find that stability within yourself, share with others how you got there without selling them something, or trying to fix them.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rev. Yolanda.

Rev. Yolanda is a singer/songwriter/trans-femme gender-non-conforming performance artist and interfaith minister, originally from Muscle Shoals Alabama- The Hit Recording Capital Of The World. Rev. Yolanda and husband Rev. Glen Ganaway are the founders of the monthly spiritual happening called Church With A 2 Drink Minimum.

Rev. Yolanda’s ministry and body of musical work has been captured with the movie “Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour” (available on Amazon), and has been honored with induction into The GLBT Hall Of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and two MAC Awards.

Rev. Yolanda’s life is also the subject of the musical theater piece entitled “The Church Of The Alien Love Child Presents: The Passion of Rev. Yolanda.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Muscle Shoals Alabama (The Hit Recording Capital of The World) in 1956 and grew up there during the 60s-70s. The area was indeed a major recording center with stars like Aretha Frankin, Rolling Stones, Lynrd Skynrd, Bob Dylan, Cher, Percy Sledge, Etta James and many many others coming to our tiny town. We sometimes saw the stars eating at the local Waffle House. The area was also the birthplace of Helen Keller and W.C. Handy.

My Dad, Mom, and several friends were involved with the music business in one way or another. I learned to play guitar and sing from a very early age and always wanted to be a recording artist and a visual artist (painting and drawing). I have always stayed true to this path for myself.

I also knew from a young age that I was different from the kids around me. I was raised as a boy but never thought of myself as a boy. I didn’t think of myself as a girl either. I knew I was in between but had no language for it. Now I understand myself as Trans-Femme gender-non-conforming…meaning not male or female but more female than male. I was very out about who I was from the 4th-grade show and tell when I brought a Time Magazine to school with the headline “Homoexuality In America”. I proudly declared I was a homoexual in front of my class. I was immediately sent to the principal’s office and my parents were called. LOL!

The other key component in my young years was my conscious connection to all things spiritual. I loved church, gospel music, Jesus and Sunday school, but I also loved supernatural phenomena, witches, magic, and other world religions. I read about Buddha, Greek Mythology, Indian Deities, and Aliens. Anything that seemed otherworldly interested me.

My life changed in high school when I met a music minister who became my mentor. He taught me how to write my own spiritual songs. This was so empowering to me that I decided that I wanted to be a music minister when I grew up.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

During high school, I realized it was safer to go back in the closet if I was going to be really involved with churches and music ministry. Even though my mentor knew I was different than the other kids at church, he never outed me. He knew I had talent and wanted to help me find my way in the music ministry. I joined a Gospel Bluegrass Folk/Rock band and played with them and another similar band all the way through my Junior year in college. I had romantic feelings for the banjo player and finally expressed them. I was expelled.

I then decided to be a musical theater major and move to NYC to be on Broadway. Broadway never happened for me but I did hone my singer-songwriter skills and got signed to Chrysalis Records. My recording career didn’t take off, but during this time I met a group of LGBTQAI folk called The Radical Faeries (an Earth-based Goddess group centering around Divine Femininity). They had a commune in Vermont and I moved there. This is when I was reborn as Yolanda. I began to understand my gender-non-conformity, claimed the name Yolanda (now my legal name), created a band called Yolanda and the Plastic Family and had terrific success with them. I moved back to NYC in 2001 to be a part of the LGBTQAI music scene that was happening at CBGBs. It was AMAZING! I got signed to another record label, had another failure, decided to stop playing music altogether and then met my husband Glen. We both were drawn to spiritual matters and decided to go to One Spirit Interfaith seminary to become ordained ministers. I graduated in 2011 (Glen in 2012) and we began our church in an East Village bar. We call it Church With A 2 Drink Minimum. We have been doing this since 2012 (currently online) and I have now come full circle as trans-femme gender-non-conforming Music Minister.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The founding of our church happened during a performance I was doing at a club in NYC soon after graduating Seminary. I was doing a show of traditional gospel and my own original music. The club had a “2 drink minimum” policy so I joked from the stage “How bout us having church with a 2 drink minimum!” People loved the idea and approached me after the show to tell me that if I really would start a church with a 2 drink minimum- they would come. So we did!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

When we first started the church, I let people who, unbeknownst to me, had an agenda differing from our core message of Wholeness to come to the stage and take the mike. Since we are an interfaith church using many sacred texts, songs, poems, etc, I thought this was “bridge-building”. It actually wasn’t. It became confusing. It was watering down the message that Glen and I wanted to share.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We became more focused on what the church’s message is really about. Our Intent became razor sharp.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

YolandaNanda: YolandaNanda is my latest sacred music release coming to you on Aug. 4 with an online cd release party featuring live performance of exciting new sacred music, special guests who helped make this project happen, and new music videos hot off the press !

This music is based on my love for the healing power of mantras. I’ve had a morning spiritual practice of singing kundalini mantras for about 5 years now. I have chosen 7 mantras that have kept me grounded and inspired during this time of COVID. I feature the mantra in its original language (mostly Punjabi and Gurumuki) , then sing it in my own English translation that tells a story from my life. I touch on stories that range from worship/praise to COVID to the LGBTQAI community. I also fuse different musical styles with the mantras. I call the genre: Ambient Kundalini Dance Rock. I created a video sampling from the CD on the above website.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television?

The entertainment industry is traditionally dominated by a white cis-gendered straight American male viewpoint. I’m thrilled to see Netflix and Hulu now challenging this norm. We need different viewpoints!!! I love hearing and seeing many different cultures, faces, languages, artistic expressions, gender identities, and exual expressions.

3 reasons for Diversity in the Entertainment Industry as follows:

  1. We live in a widely diverse world. Nature aka The Goddess LOVES diversity.
  2. It only makes sense to connect people to stories unfamiliar to their own story. When one experiences the stories of those who are different than themselves, an opportunity for seeing themselves in the unfamiliar happens. In this opportunity, the mind and heart can open to embrace the oneness and connection of all living beings (including animals, insects, plants, Mother Earth herself).
  3. Being knowledgeable of more than mainstream white straight cis-gendered American culture can bring an understanding of the fallacy that Western Culture is inherently more valuable that other cultures.

How can that potentially affect our culture?

We can begin to make room in our hearts and minds to see humanity as a whole, rather than separate entities with our own separate agendas. My mission statement is “ building bridges of love between diverse communities through the power of inspirational entertainment.”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I really don’t think there are “5 Things” that I wish I had been told because I did follow that kind of advice during my life and discovered that the best advice for my career comes from me. Each creative artist has their own unique path, and each path is different. People told me all kinds of things to do and not to do. I have spent a fortune in classes and training and certificates and gurus and more classes to find those exact 5 things that would take me to the place in my career where I would finally find the success that the mainstream said was the success I should have. I’m not saying don’t take classes or improve your skills. I’m not saying that industry protocols are not important. I am saying no one can give you the 5 keys to success. Your success comes from you.

I have been a professional singer-songwriter for over 40 years. I have created my own path of artistic and financial stability. I know many music industry people who win Grammys, produce major acts, interview the stars, photograph the stars, and who are the talent scouts/ agents/casting agents who discover the next top stars, I’ve taken all of these people’s career advice and found that the best advice for me comes from within me.

You have the best advice for you and your situation. Does it bring you peace of mind? Then do that. When you go to a person for advice, make sure they are a professional who can listen to you, be present with you, and guide you back to your very own “still small voice”, while helping you understand the right protocols to follow for your particular part of the industry.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Don’t count on your industry or profession (even a “helping” profession) to fulfill your personal and spiritual needs. Do your personal work of self care.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Know Thyself! Understand yourself fully and find your peace of mind. Peace comes when you are not trying to copy someone else or be someone else other than you. When you find that stability within yourself, share with others how you got there without selling them something, or trying to fix them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This particular person was my music minister in high school. He was totally non-judgmental of me even though he thought my exual orientation and gender identity went against his own spiritual belief system. He shared his love of life with me through the sacred music he performed, and it made a lifelong impression on me.

One weekend in high school, he took our youth group camping. He played some beautiful sacred songs on the guitar and sang with us around the campfire. It was a significant experience for me. I began to cry uncontrollably. He came over and put his arm around me and let me cry without saying anything. He just sat with me until I stopped crying. His gentle energy changed my life path.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote from a book called A Course In Miracles says

“I am not the victim of the world I see”

I have experienced a lot of abuse along the way to living my most authentic life. I have been tempted to become bitter because of this abuse. When I read the above passage for the first time, I experienced from the depths of my being that all that had happened made me the amazing and beautiful person that I am. This quote inspires me today to find a different perspective to what troubles me. It also inspires me to the action that I know I am called to do in healing work and social justice.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Laverne Cox! She was the first famous transgender actor I was aware of. She inspires me to be my best self. She is also from Alabama and I’d love to talk to her about her experiences growing up. I bet we have a lot of things in common.

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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