Medella Kingston fell in love with writing at an early age and published articles, poems, and stories when she was growing up. She wrote, performed, and sold songs for movie soundtracks, and continued writing short stories for her own pleasure. She currently sings in the band Omnesia, which has aired locally on UC Berkeley’s radio station and been heard as far east as Goa and the Mumbai University. She lives with her partner and their two dogs in the East Bay. PeopleFish is Medella’s first novel, and she is currently working on a new book.

Medella’s Music In The First Person

http://omnesiamusic.com/

I was born into Generation X on Long Island, NY, and discovered music before the manicured green lawns of the suburbs killed my creative soul. Piano taught me the math of music and then guitar led me to my voice, which came out much deeper and thicker than anyone expected from a skinny girl with frizzy hair. I was a wallflower who needed an outlet; I started writing songs at twelve and never stopped.

I sang depressing ballads and thumped out rhythm guitar on my acoustic in any coffeehouse that would let me. The music scene in Boston was great, but San Francisco was calling my name. My first Bay Area band was a well intended but unspectacular all woman foursome called Finger. We had a fair amount of gigs for unknowns but a failed romance between the guitarist and bassist split the band apart. Next I had the terrific opportunity to work with Chris Stone and Nancy Kravitz in Fiction. We played Folsom and Castro Street Fairs, and had the pleasure of opening for Linda Perry in 1997. The band stayed together for several years and then dissolved.

I turned to Craig’s List where I saw an ad placed by musical genius M2. Seriously, this man’s IQ is well over my weight. We began collaborating and found a groove that eventually took us to our unique hybrid musical style. Our influences couldn’t be more different. He never listened to the goddesses I grew up on: Deborah Harry, Joan Armatrading, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Chrissie Hynde, Johnette Neopolitano, and others. But somehow we have intense musical chemistry. We both like taking varied approaches to composing, and working within limits but pushing boundaries. I didn’t know who I was as a musician until I started working with M2 in Omnesia.

When I’m not making music, I crave the great outdoors where I spend a lot of time with my dogs. I’m also a fiction writer and a movie junkie.

My Nom De Plume Is Both A Celebration And A Memorial

Medella was my grandmother’s first name. Her French Canadian mother and Metis* father created it by combining two other names. Like this wonderful woman, the name is one of a kind. When I’ve searched the Internet for my mother’s mother’s name, it only appears now as I have reclaimed it. When my cousin Johnny was little, he told her she was so sweet that her name ought to be “Grandma Honey.” This nickname spread instantly, and all of Medella’s grandchildren started calling her that. She was a first generation American, and grew up in a large Connecticut family. She was a good Catholic girl whose sheltered upbringing could not keep her from her destiny as a performer. Young Medella wanted to dance, and although she possessed natural abilities, she longed to take lessons which her foundry worker father could not afford. Luckily, she had a friend who was attending weekly dance lessons. As the legend goes, each week, this friend would show young Della what she learned. Then my gram would immediately learn the moves, often embellishing them, and creating her own. She and her partner became known as “The Archer Sisters.” Medella’s surname was deemed too unpronounceable and un-American, and so it became Archer. My grandmere could not become a New York City Rockette* like she dreamed of being because she was short and curvaceous, and not the required statuesque height of exactly 5’7″. But she did perform on several stages, and I know her soul grew wings when she danced. She gave it all up when she met and married my grandfather, but was always a star on the dance floor at family weddings. I chose her name to honor her, and because I promised her when I was little that I would not lose my footing on the artist’s path. I would not give up what I loved to do as she had done.
Promotional materials for my grandmother

 

I took Kingston as my surname because it is the city in Jamaica where my father’s father emigrated from. His last name, the same one I was born with, came from his slave ancestors who were saddled with it by a British master who owned an enormous banana plantation. My grandfather left Jamaica in the early 1900s when he was very young, and like so many impoverished people seeking the American dream, he and his family came through Ellis Island, New York. They joined the legions of poor, and lived in a crowded tenement building. I’ve seen the immigration and census documents that list him, his parents, and his older sisters as mulatto and West Indian. His father got a job as a cook on a cruise ship which sailed back and forth to Cuba. His mother and two sisters worked as laundresses and as soon as my grandfather was old enough to contribute to the family, he did. At just eight years old, he worked the streets of New York City as a newsie.* When my grandfather was still a boy, his father’s ship went to Cuba as usual, but tragically, he failed to return to his family,  and was never heard from again. My grandpa’s schooling ended then so he could work full time to help support the family. What I know about slavery and plantations in Jamaica is heartbreakingly brutal. My Jamaican ancestors risked all to come here, and when they arrived in the United States, all they had was fifty dollars and each other. My grandpa and grandma raised eight children, the third of whom was my father, in a tiny house in Queens, New York. Grandpa was a tall, lean, wiry man with a sharp mind and a memorable way of saying things. When I was a little girl, I recall him telling many interesting stories of jobs he’d had, and places he’d been. He never spoke about his side of the family. Perhaps he couldn’t after a lifetime of trying so hard to pass as white. But when pushed to talk about his background, he did say that he was English, and born in Kingston on Thames, England. I selected his real birth city as my surname to honor him, and because the heavy hand of history has asked countless immigrants to give up so much: homelands, names, and true stories.
My grandfather at 61

 

My pen name reminds me that I’m only here because of the innumerable sacrifices of my ancestors, whom I thank and speak to regularly when I offer my gratitudes to the sky. I am so fortunate to live in these times and to have selected a name out of pride, rather than have one forced upon me because of the dictates of show business or the bondage of slavery.
*Metis: are a group of peoples in Canada who trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers.
*The Rockettes: are a precision dance company. Founded in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, since 1932, they have performed at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, New York City.
*Newsie: is a person who sells or delivers newspapers.
The Archer Sisters circa 1924