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Beacons On The Path - Stephanie Renee
Apr 26, 2014

Appreciating the mentors and inspirations in our lives, close or distant

I finally got a chance to watch 20 Feet From Stardom, and I realize that I have been neglectful in acknowledging one of my career mentors.

Over the course of the past 20 years, I have done my best to give credit where credit is due for those people who have helped to direct my life path. In addition to the awesome gene pool from which I was born, there have been incredible beams of light I have encountered through my various creative endeavors who have advised, critiqued, molded, trained and pushed me in so many necessary ways. There are the hands-on, in my face mentors like my father and the late great dramaturg/director/pain in the ass Ricardo Martin. There are musician/arranger/producers like Quincy Jones and Lenny Kravitz, whose catalog of work and life philosophies keep me striving for excellence. And then there are the ridiculously-gifted sister spirits of recording and stage, who show me more of who I am and why I chose this life I have by the high bar they set in their consistent, exceptional doing. Sarah Vaughan. Cassandra Wilson. Donna Summer. Jill Scott. Chaka Khan. Patti Austin. Audra McDonald. Lalah Hathaway. Cree Summer. And let me rightfully add another important name to the list: Lisa. As in, Lisa Fischer.

How is it that I have gone this long in my life without consciously acknowledging what a fiercely talented and similar spirit Lisa Fischer is to me? Everyone fondly reminisces and swoons over her Grammy Award-winning hit, "How Can I Ease The Pain." And yes, that was impressive. Classic, even. But Lisa Fischer is so much more than just one hit record. She was brought into the music industry singing backup for Luther Vandross, arguably one of the best balladeers of all time. And, rest his soul, Luther was a notorious diva. So if he deemed you worthy to have solo moments to shine on his recordings or during his tours, you had to have an amazing gift. Luther was also the catalyst that helped to secure Lisa's contract with Elektra Records, which led to that massive hit song. But beyond the smash, Lisa Fischer has been consistently working in the industry, even after her solo spotlight faded (by choice). She tours as a featured background singer for a ton of notable artists. Chris Botti. The Rolling Stones. Sting. And those who've had the pleasure of collaborating with Lisa speak of her voice and her abilities in awe-filled, almost reverent, terms.

The thing is: Lisa Fischer has stood in the sun of center stage and international acclaim, but made a conscious decision to maintain her role in the industry on her own terms. Uncompromised, for the sake of fame or a check. And honest to her own goals, without yielding to convention. She's unmarried and childless by choice, a decision to which I can relate in particular. Decidedly averse to excess or bling. Unburdened by the pain of what ifs.

I suffer under no delusion that I am anywhere close to Lisa Fischer's level. She's an all-star; I am gifted junior varsity. But when I hear her speak about the power of knowing your voice, your place, how your talent interweaves with the other people you work with to produce something beautiful, I know that she and I are kindred spirits. Other people may not understand why we make the decisions we make, or how we go about pursuing our goals, but that's OK.

We keep working. We keep stretching. We delight in standing confidently in our shine. No BS. No regrets. And that is worth celebrating.

Here is last week's playlist:

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