A few years back, I was running the sound system at a church for a music performance. All of a sudden, there was a different drummer performing, it was some girl playing, and she was really good. We spoke afterwards. She told me her name was Venzella. She told me about what she was doing musically, including playing with an all female gospel group from Buffalo. Like many musicians, church played a big part in her musical path.
Venzella Joy is the youngest of 8. She was born in Lockport, NY but raised in the city of Buffalo. Her siblings played music, but it was more like a hobby for them, with the exception of her sister Vidie, who continues to play bass. Dad sings, and the kids used to hang out in the studio when they were younger. That helped influence her path towards music.
Venzella started playing drums at the age of 10 at school, and soon after played in her church. “I was drawn to rhythm,” she says. “Beats, movement. I used to dance a lot when I was little.” Mom instilled the importance of education. A solid backup plan if music doesn’t work out. Music was a big part of her education, first at Nardin Academy, then Canisius College. She learned a lot more theory in college, but majored in Criminal Justice, the solid back up plan.
She and Vidie played together through church, when one day, one of the church Mothers told them, if you add two other girls to “the band”, you’ll be professional in two years. As Venzella put it, “It was almost prophetic.” A couple of girls joined the group, childhood friends as it would turn out, and the group became Heavenbound. That’s the group she told me about that one day a few years back. They would record a demo of original music. It would be recorded in The Cutting Room, a professional studio in New York City. It was an awesome experience for the girls, and for Venzella, she was just scratching the surface. The group would go on and open for other gospel acts, and also performed annually with The International AIM Convention, a faith based convention which attracts churches and musicians from around the world. A different city hosts it every year. “It was exciting to us to play a platform that large,” she tells me. They met a lot of people and made valuable connections.
One of the connections made, landed Venzella on an MTV reality show called Making This Band, a spin off show of Making The Band, whose executive producer was Sean “Puff Daddy’ Combs. The winners go and perform with Combs. She did not make the cut, but made yet another valuable connection in the industry. During the time after the show, she did session work, and even worked a day job.
One of those connections offered her a spot on the BET program Black Girls Rock. A friend from Making This Band suggested a female drummer for this show and Venzella got the call. Black Girls Rock is a foundation to mentor girls in music, with certain categories honored annually. She played in the house band, and it gave her the opportunity to perform with Patti LaBelle, Jodeci, Ledisi, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Rowland, Janelle Monae, and Alice Smith for their awards show. It was filmed in October 2013, and aired in November.
In December, Venzella got a call from the music director of superstar Beyonce, who was putting together an all female band. Venzella’s first gig with Beyonce was at the White House, for Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday bash. They played 3 songs, including “Crazy in Love” and “Why Don’t You Love Me”. They also performed “Irreplaceable” as an encore.
The group then embarked on the Mrs. Carter Tour, which started in Glasgow, Scotland on February 20, and ended in Lisbon, Portugal March 28 of this year.
Most memorable were 6 nights at O2 Arena in London, “It was almost surreal. Jay-Z performed the London shows. The energy from the crowd, from the stage, from my fellow musicians. It was a dream come true,” Venzella recalls.
She then went on the road with the Jay-Z On The Run Tour, which started in June in Miami. It was a few weeks in rehearsals in New Jersey, at the Izod Center, then 20 shows in the US.
”It was cool because we were able to merge the 2 bands.” She tells me she learned a lot from Jay-Z’s drummer Tony Royster. They played dual drums, and alternated percussion other times.
Venzella is on the current cover of Tom Tom Magazine, which is available at Guitar Center and Barnes and Noble. The interview was conducted in Miami during an off day.
Venzella is endorsed by DW Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Remo Heads, Vater Percussion, Kickport Accessories, and Yamaha DTX Drums
Her advice for today’s music students, “Anything is possible, hard work, strong faith. Nothing is without reach. It’s an ‘if I can do it you can do it’ kind of thing”.
Venzella’s mom passed in 2009, she told her then “I see your dreams coming true”. Powerful words she often goes back to, for comfort, inspiration, or maybe to remind her that she hasn’t needed to use her solid back up plan, the music industry has been good to her.
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