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Sep 2007 - Chantelle Ashby



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Moxy or (Moxie) Women refers to women who demonstrate courage and/or bravery to go for their dreams!

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 The Soldier in Her Pocket
The Profile of a Rising Star
Chantelle Ashby

by Jean Harper

Listen up Simon Cowell. Chantelle Ashby can sing as if she is a legend reincarnated.  Oprah, I hope that you will find the time to hear her amazing story and perhaps invite her on your show.  Chantelle is willing to tell her story now and feels strongly that it will not be in vain if it helps even one girl or woman pursue their dream and not give up, regardless of the hand life has dealt them.  She knows about obstacles, trials, and tribulations firsthand.  WTCB is proud to tell you her story, as she recalls it.  And so, she is our pick for September's Moxy Woman.  Chantelle Ashby is oozing with Moxy!

Photo below courtesy of 2mygallery.com

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 At 5:15PM on Friday, August 3, 2007, I arrived at the home of Chantelle Ashby and her husband Daniel Misera. The purpose of my visit was to interview her for our Moxy Women series.  I had heard about Chantelle and first heard her sing in a most unexpected venue.  After hearing her sing and learning just a bit of her story, I felt compelled to write about her as her story stirred emotions in me and enticed me to learn more about this truly Moxy Woman.  I am convinced that Chantelle will be a superstar.  She has what it takes, and she openly discusses the path that has led her to this pinnacle in her life.

Chantelle opened the door as I arrived; she greeted me warmly and invited me in to see her home.  She immediately took me on a tour, describing each room as we made our way down the hallway.  When we approached her bedroom, she proudly introduced me to her children and I looked in to see two beautiful cats lying on the bed.  Chantelle introduced them as Bella and Tigger.  Bella, as her name implies, is a beautiful cat with mottled fur. Tigger looks like a gray tiger with distinctive markings and a piercing stare.   She then quickly explained that she has another child by the name of Annie and shortly thereafter, a thin black cat entered the room and rubbed against her leg and meowed while looking up at me as if to say that she is the favored child.  It was immediately clear to me that Chantelle's cats are just like children to her and that she has a deep love for these beautiful creatures.    She immediately lay down beside the cats, demonstrating her tender affection, and talking to them in a way that made it clear that these are three very spoiled children and certainly not lacking love and affection.  As we turned down the hallway approaching their in-home recording studio, we first passed by a wall covered with framed photos of Chantelle and her all-girl group, The Knockouts. Signed photos of some of her favorite artists and groups such as the Marcels, The Clovers, Bill Haley and the Comets, and more groups from the 1950's and 60's fill the wall.  These are some of the groups that Chantelle and the Knockouts have opened for in the past, along with more current names such as Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire.  As we walked past this wall, I reminded myself that Chantelle is only 23 years of age and throughout the evening, I would need to remind myself of this fact over and over again.Chantelle_Interview_015.jpg (photo wall below)

 

Chantelle and Maria below

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 Shortly after my arrival, Maria Misera, Daniel's mother, came in bringing a beautiful tray of fresh fruit, a bowl of chips, and a tray of assorted petite cheesecakes.  She entered the room and greeted me as if I were a dear family friend.  Daniel was in the shower when I arrived but now, he was entering the room to greet me as well.  Within a few short minutes, I could feel the warmth and love that filled this household.  Maria's fruit tray included a pineapple that she proudly exclaimed to have grown in her own garden.  Maria exuded the kind of loving and nurturing warmth that everyone craves in a mother figure. We decided to sit in the dining room and commence with my interview.

Chantelle and Daniel met in picturesque Kelowna, BC, population approximately 111,000.  The city is linked with the beautiful orchards and vineyards that surround it. It is also known for pristine, sandy beaches and for Ogopogo, a sea monster that, according to local legend, lurks beneath the surface of Okanagan Lake. The couple met when Chantelle was recording for Sky Z Limit Records in BC.

chanelle_and_daniel.jpg Daniel was brought in to co-produce a CD with Chantelle and the production company.  Daniel is a talented composer, re-mixer, and engineer.  Some of his current clients include Bif Naked, for which he produces remixes, and Nazanin, for whom he has written original music.  When Daniel first met Chantelle, he saw a strikingly beautiful woman too worldly for his comfort level.  Chantelle thought Daniel was very handsome but when she asked about him around the studio, she learned that he was deeply religious and so, she did not think him to be her type.  Still, she was intrigued by his calmness and the fact that, unlike the other guys around the studio, he did not show much interest in her.  They started out as friends and before long, she felt herself falling in love with him as did he with her.  Chantelle describes the night that she first felt herself falling for Daniel.  As she told me the story, a sweet smile began to form on her delicate face, and I watched her eyes look down as if she were watching a video of the event.  She recalls that they were riding in the car and began to talk about ghosts, which was a subject that really interested her.  She talked about her ghost hunting days while Daniel shared his thoughts on the reality or non-existence of ghosts.  The discussion then took on a religious theme and she became fascinated.  She told me that before this, she did not believe in God because she could not understand why God would allow people to suffer and be tortured.  It was confusing to her to believe, as many religions teach, that there is a heaven and a hell.  Why, she thought, would a loving God throw her into a lake of fire just because she did not follow a few rules?  She became interested in God when she realized that God did not torture people as she was taught to believe.  As the conversation with Daniel continued, something came over her and she thought, "I think I am falling in love for the first time in my life." This feeling was strange and foreign to her, but she liked it; she began to let down her walls, trust this gentle man, and allow him into her heart. The match seemed to be based on their differences, and he soon invited her to go home to meet his parents in Florida.  Within a few short weeks, she told him that she wanted to marry him and shortly thereafter, she and Maria went shopping for a Cinderella-style wedding dress.

After we sat down for the interview, Maria suggested that we start with a short review of the wedding video of Chantelle and Daniel.  As we watched the video, Maria-or Mom, as Chantelle refers to her-is glued to the video as if she is seeing it for the first time.  I quickly deduced that this was not the first time that she had reviewed it, and you could not ignore the pride that she demonstrated for not only Daniel but also for her daughter-in-law, Chantelle, the daughter that she always wanted.  Chantelle was embraced by this loving family and they could all clearly see that she has a heart of gold beneath the tough girl persona.  Chantelle told me later that she had a list of personalities such as the sweet, nice girl, and the bad, power-hungry girl that broke many hearts along the way.  She had deliberately developed these personalities as a survival tactic.  She had many opportunities to see the results of these personality traits and utilized the appropriate one to get what she needed.  It worked on TV and it could work in real life.  She lowered her voice, puffed out her chest, stared me in the eye, and told me how she would act like this around any tough guys who approached her.  I laughed out loud at the sight of this woman trying to look tough enough to take on a big strong guy.   Then I settled back and thought that indeed, she is tough when she needs to be and nobody is going to push this moxy woman around for long.  She also explained that nowlaboration in the works involving these two and he is arriving to work in the studio with Chantelle and Daniel this evening.  I quietly hope for the possibility of a duet between Richie and Chantelle while I am there and, to my delight, my wish is granted.Chantelle_Interview_024.jpg

Photo right- Chantelle & Richie Merritt

Chantelle's life, currently a dream for many women, did not start out with much promise for such an outcome.  In fact, she matter-of-factly states that it is a miracle that she is even alive today.  She still does not know how to drive a car. She is convinced that her gift as the "singer girl," as she was referred, was her ticket out of the ghetto and on to a now-charmed life.

Chantelle was born near Toronto and lived in the Regent Park area which she describes as the ghetto. 

Chantelle completed only up to the 5th grade and attended special education classes. She never attended school on a regular basis, so it is difficult to know what level of education she actually completed.  She can recall one teacher by the name of Mrs. Wright who was tough with her, but she perceived her toughness as being tough love or some other type of concern for her educational development.    Chantelle pulled out some math books, for grades 1-3, and told me that she was teaching herself math. Her plans are to complete one grade per week depending on her schedule. After much conversation with this remarkable young woman, it seemed impossible to believe that she had not graduated from high school and possibly college.  Her communication skills are clear and solid.  She plans to keep teaching herself until she achieves a level where she is comfortable. She is confident and clear that she will get her education one way or another and on her own.  I have no doubt that she will do just that.
 

chantelle_boxing.jpgAt the age of 8, Chantelle would fight for quarters to prove that she was tough. Her opponents for these fights were boys from different buildings within the housing project.  When asked how many quarters she won, she replied, "A lot. I was really good at it".  Early on, she was told that she was just "white trash" and would never amount to anything. Her inner voice told her differently. 

Chantelle has been offered a few recording contracts, but she has not accepted one; for the first time in her life, she is getting to know herself for who she really is and she likes that woman.

The wedding video offers a live journal of a magical wedding, complete with a beautiful white wedding gown, a glowing bride, a handsome groom, family all around, and lively, melodic Greek music playing in the background.  The wedding, by all accounts, is a traditional Greek wedding with dancing, food, laughter and an overflow of love from the entire family. I quickly learned that only Daniel's family members were present at this wedding.  chantelle_wedding_dress.jpgChantelle would have enjoyed having her sisters, brother, and birth mom there too; however, that was just not possible.  She refers often to her sisters as her babies, even though they are only a couple of years younger than Chantelle.

Today, Chantelle Ashby has it all.  She is extraordinarily beautiful and can sing with the soul and delivery of a woman twice her age.  In fact, when you hear her sing, it is difficult to believe that she is 23 and a white girl.  Her sound is like that of the late Dinah Washington with the penetrating voice, perfect timing, and crystal clear enunciation and of the late Ella Fitzgerald with a wide sultry sound.  Do not be mistaken by the comparison as Chantelle has her own unique mixture of blues and soul, and she has the ability to "change her voice", as she puts it, which makes you wonder if it is the same person from one song to the next when shuffling through a few of her songs.  At 23, she can sing songs like, "Cry Me a River", and "What a Difference a Day Makes", and if you close your eyes, you picture her to be a 35-40 year old Black female blues or soul singer.  Chantelle tells me that she sings her best when she has an audience.  Recording in the studio with no audience is difficult for her and on this night, she proved that point to me by singing two beautiful songs with pure elegance and perfection while singing to her captive audience of five.  When Chantelle sings, not only does she change her voice from a lower to higher pitch, but also her facial expressions, particularly her mouth, hypnotize you with their animation.  Her body movements flow with expression and her arms at times straighten by her side, pushing her hands downward as if she is lifting herself up.  She switches her feet from right to left and back again.  chantelle_sings.jpgWhat a beautiful voice and a perfect delivery.  Those of us watching soon began to sway our bodies in time with her as we listened and watched her perform.  As she sang for us this night, she was wearing a pair of flannel pajamas because she wanted to be comfortable and focused on her sound.  I looked at her standing there in this warm, safe place, singing like the mature woman that she is but looking only 23 years of age. I shake my head in disbelief, again reminding myself that despite her age, she is a woman with a story and who, by most standards, thinks and carries herself decades older than her years.

After watching part of the wedding video, the doorbell rings and in walks Richie Merritt who Chantelle refers to as her idol.  Richie, with his velvety voice, sings with the Marcels and has had an incredible career in the music industry.  There is a possible colaccepted any.  She is waiting for the right one, the one that will allow her to have balance in her life.  If she could be anything in the world, besides the obvious-being a singer-she would be a superhero and take care of everyone that she loves.  She tells me that she would like to take care of her sisters and brother, as well as show her mother what it is like on the other side.   She expounds that she would take care of the homeless, the orphans, support animal shelters, and the list goes on.  Her young, once-hardened heart is now bigger than the world.

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 Tony Belmont, who Chantelle refers to as her boss, has been in the music and entertainment industry for many years.  Tony currently manages Chantelle and books performances for her and the Knockouts.  After a 3-years path toward both physical and mental health, Chantelle is now ready to take on a full career in her own style.

I asked Chantelle if she has a superhero and she quickly pointed to her husband Daniel.  Daniel told me that conversely, his superhero is Chantelle.  They are a beautiful couple, both inside and out.

Her advice to anyone growing up in circumstances similar to hers is to find your passion, whatever it is, and go for it! Don't give up, no matter what.  Chantelle's husband and his family are practicing Jehovah's Witnesses.  Chantelle tells me that she refrains from celebrating any holidays out of respect and recalled her Christmas holidays as a child.  She described a Christmas tree with lots of presents and that those presents were given to her family by the vce countered this talk and told her instead, "I am going to be somebody." When she would exclaim out loud, "I am going to be somebody".

Watching TV all day in her room was her only interaction with the outside world beyond where she lived.   Her greatest fear was her own death and that one of her siblings would be killed.  She heard the echoes of gunshots daily and her sisters found a dead prostitute in the stairwell of their apartment building when they were only about 8 years old.  Chantelle speaks of being jumped and kidnapped by an oriental girl gang.  She has a hard time remembering the various ages that are associated with the traumatic events of her life.  The one thing that she does remember is that she had to remain hyper vigilant because she would not survive if she showed any weakness.  She witnessed death all around her and lived in fear that she or her sisters would be next. She saw a man killed right in front of her at or around the age of 10 and has never forgotten that.

Chantelle credits her Aunt Sherry with instilling in her a love of music.  Her aunt took her to her first karaoke bar where she was well received.  Aunt Sherry was also a good singer. When the crowd clapped and cheered after Chantelle performed for the first time, she was sure they were making fun of her; after all, she had never been told that she was good at anything. When someone walked up to her to tell her how well she sings, she wondered if they were going to try and molest her.  Her aunt explained to her that the audience loved her performance and thus, Chantelle got her first glimpse of positive reinforcement. She continued to live with her aunt for about a year.  She has lost track of her now and does not know if she is dead or alive.

By the age of twelve, Chantelle was singing and performing professionally.  She had her first CD single release that same year.  Chantelle was well received for her tribute to Patsy Cline and she began performing all around the Metro Toronto and Southern Ontario region at numerous music events. She recalls Peggy, a volunteer at the Kiwanis Club, where many poor kids would go after school.  Peggy bought her her first Patsy Cline CD and she instantly loved the sound.  When she was 16, she won a trip to Nashville and performed at a country music industry showcase event. She recalls that a social worker had to accompany her to Nashville so that she would be allowed to go.  At 17 years old, she was offered a record deal with the country record label, Blue Mountain Records.  She went on to open for Alan Jackson.  In addition, Chantelle was a top finalist at the B.C. talent searches, Okanagan Idol and Okanagan Star Search.

The fast track of Chantelle's success exposed her to a high concentration of alcohol and drugs and soon, she was hooked. By age 20, her fast track up became a slow downward spiral and soon, she would not be able to perform because she was drinking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The tough little girl that was told she would never be anything but "white trash" was trying to survive in a world much bigger than what even her ghetto life had prepared her.

Her record contract required her to write some original songs for recording.  Chantelle_photo_2.jpgHer deadline for producing the songs was less than an hour away when she started writing.  Chantelle never felt strongly about writing or singing country music.  She describes herself as a soul and blues singer.  She wrote the songs that were required of her and her original words to the songs flowed easily, describing some of her innermost thoughts, including her still-burning desire to make a better life for herself.

Photo left courtesy of 2mygallery.com

As I listened to some of her old recordings and compared them to the heartfelt blues renditions that she demonstrated for me that Friday in her home recording studio, I knew that Chantelle was now sure of herself and what she wanted to do.  The revealing lyrics of the old recordings such as, "Every time I tell them, they laughed at me, don't care what they say, don't care what they know, this time I am giving it my soul" told me that she had indeed found her soul.  Her song, "Soldier in My Pocket," describes a soldier in her pocket that is there to protect her.  That soldier, in my view, gave her a sense of security. Chantelle was a young girl with only a small soldier in her pocket to protect her from the world where she should have been safe, loved, and nurtured.

When I asked Chantelle to describe her biggest obstacle to changing her life, her response was trust.  She has no regrets today and tells me that her experiences have taught her important life lessons.  When I asked her what she would choose to do differently, she told me that she would trust sooner.  She is actually grateful for her journey and due to her experiences; she is able to fully appreciate the gifts that she receives today.  When she is hugged by Maria, held by Daniel, or told how wonderfully she sings, she soaks it in to the depths of her being and savors every feeling and sense that accompanies it.  She says that others take these things for granted but not she; she feels everything now.

Chantelle is driven and happy today.  She is sober, clean, healthy, happily married, and has the love of a family.  She tells me that singing is like breathing and it is something that she does well.  She tells me that singing the blues and soul music gives her a chance to release the big ball that she feels in her gut; it is her release.  People view her as very open and easy going.  The angry girl is gone and a beautiful woman has emerged. She admits that, at times, she still gets angry but knows how to control herself.  I asked her what still makes her angry and she tells me with the clearest of understanding that when someone speaks to her in a way that she perceives as critical, the old feelings of shame swarm over her.  She concretely tells me that she felt shame long enough. She tells me that she now believes in living every day as if it is a holiday.  She gives her husband a gift everyday by writing him a note or letter professing her love for him.  She points to a box on a shelf in the living room where he stores each letter as a precious gift.  He also gives her a gift everyday; she has boxes and boxes of things from him.

Chantelle tells me that she is rich now, not rich with material things, but rather, rich with the important things such as love, friends, and family.   She talks about Maria coming to her side at 4:00AM on many mornings when she was very sick.  She recounts her skepticism of religion and how it took her two years to be convinced.  She is learning to trust God now and she wants to trust people.  She continues to work toward that goal. 

Chantelle allowed me to watch her during a photo shoot.  As one of the photographers, Pati, pointed out, it is like she plugs herself in and goes.   I soon discovered that in addition to her singing talent, she looks and acts the part of a professional model.  She is stunning and has the ability to change characters with each new outfit.  Watching her change with each new shoot, I could not help but wonder if she learned this as a little girl watching TV while confined to her room.

(Photographers Doug, Pati and Barry position Chantelle and correct lighting below) 

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Below- during shoot at Digital Photo Creations studio in Madeira Beach, FL

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I was allowed to take some photos on my own as the shoot progressed.  As I looked through the lens of my camera at this woman, I could also see that little girl looking at me.  She looked right into my soul as if she could see the depths of it.  As I held my camera steady in my hand, I was drawn into her vulnerable eyes and I could see the eyes of that little girl in me that understands, all too well, much of Chantelle's story.  chantelle_bw_c.jpgI then knew that no matter how many people take the time to read this story, Chantelle had already realized her goal.  Chantelle told me several times that if her story helps even one person, then she is satisfied.  As a middle aged woman, I realized that this 23 year-old woman reminded me that just by being human, we can achieve whatever we want if we desire it enough and persist.  Chantelle has inspired and convinced me that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do in this life, and I will always be grateful to her for that.  When I looked at her vulnerable eyes again during the very last photo I took of her that day, I could see that they are as deep as the deepest ocean.

 

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When I asked Chantelle where she sees herself in 5 years, she replied that she plans to be writing, producing, and recording with her husband.  When she looked at me, standing up straight and without blinking, I too believed that she will be exactly where she aspires to be.

As I remind myself once again that this tall, beautiful, confident, and very articulate woman is only 23 years old, I continue to remember that her biological age aside, she is much older in experience. 

Take a look at the pictures, listen to her songs, and just wait to hear more from this Moxy Woman.

To Chantelle, I say thank you for granting me the privilege of hearing, documenting, and writing your story.  Please remember me when you visit Oprah or Ellen, and remember to take me with you!

As I finish this story, I realize that while it is already rich in content, this is only the beginning of the story.  Chantelle is just beginning to discover who she really is.  When I think of where she is right now at this point in her career, my mind flashes forward and I quietly pray that her story will unfold as "happily ever after," rich with all that she desires.  I envision a book about her, with pictures of a full and amazing life.  From the bottom of my heart, I wish her the best of luck!

I dedicate this story not only to Chantelle but also, to all of the girls and women that may be in pain or at a crossroads in their life.  If she can do it, then surely you can too.  Remember Chantelle's advice to find something that you can do well, no matter what it is, and go for it!  Don't give up!

We hope to have a list of appearances by Chantelle for you soon.  Meanwhile, listen to one more of Chantelle's songs by clicking below.

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