As the city of New Orleans moves to Phase 3, and many of its residents are in the process of receiving vaccinations, it is only logical for people to imagine what the light at the end of the COVID tunnel will look like. Members of the live music community are warming up their instruments and are ready to come back stronger than ever, whether it be producing, writing, or performing. Among those musicians is award-winning singer Lena Prima. We had the opportunity of interviewing Ms. Prima to ask her about her latest success with her album, The Lena Prima Big Band: Live in Concert, how she has been keeping busy during the pandemic, and what her future plans are for the year.
Where Y'At: Could you tell us a little bit about your latest album?
Lena Prima: The album was just so that I can release it to make people happy; it was the last big show I did where I had the big band. Usually I just use my six-piece group, but because I recorded Prima La Famiglia previously, that was a big band album, I wanted to do some songs from that album and some other great arrangements that were made for big band. It was a great show and a great night at the Smith Center in Las Vegas, and I made a live album out of it. And I'm glad I did because it's nice to have that show on record, and my fans were really appreciative to have something to lift their spirits during the pandemic. It was also mostly me, I did it all myself at home. I learned how to edit and everything, so I just did it myself and put it out there. It ended up on [OffBeat's 2020] Top 50 Albums in Louisiana.
WYA: Are you working on anything new that you'd like to share with us?
LP: I just started writing some new songs with my band, which has been great, despite the whole pandemic. I've been so sensitive; I've had to put the whole singing/performing in some sort of compartment so I wouldn't get depressed. So the inspiration just started coming and that's usually how it works with me, and I'm super glad because I'm just so happy, right now, to be working on some new material. Since we just started, I don't really have a plan of when I will be releasing stuff, but I'm thinking of maybe recording some singles instead of an album and, this way, I at least get some music out there. So I'm not really sure, but it's great to be working on some new stuff right now.
WYA: Including your new material and new acquired skills, is there anything else you've been doing to keep busy during the pandemic that you'd like to share?
LP: Yes. I've actually learned how to edit, like I mentioned before, and I started a show, an online web show called Buona Sera, Louisiana with my good friend Charles Marsala. He is an amazing Italian, and I guess I can call him a professional Italian American. He's into our culture and our history in Louisiana, the immigration of Sicilians, and he is incredible. And so I called him and said, "Hey, let's do a show and let's include some of your stuff and highlight our heritage as Italian Americans." So we started doing that and now we are being featured on WLAE on certain Sunday nights and on mardigrastv.com. We've been doing really well. We have done about eight episodes and we're doing a weekly show; it's super fun and I'm producing the whole thing myself, which makes me think if this pandemic never happened, I would've never thought I'd be learning how to do this stuff, so I've been keeping really busy doing all that.
WYA: Do you have any upcoming gigs or projects?
LP: We were the weekend band at the Hotel Monteleone for about nine years. They will be having us back as soon as they're ready to open back up for a full band. Right now, they just started bringing back the background set music, like trios. So we will be back. I just don't have a specific date, but probably in the summer. I'm not that positive, since things have been changing day-to-day.
WYA: Besides learning how to produce, and all these exciting new things, how have you been coping with the pandemic?
LP: We have been surviving thanks to the incredible grants that were offered. There was the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, another New Orleans organization, several music care foundations, and care grants, and I was able to get the SPA and the PPP loans so we can actually survive, and now I'm actually trying to get the second round. Those things, I thank God, were available because we've been able to get by and we're just trying to stay positive and creative and as happy as possible. Watching some pleasant things on Netflix, just like everybody else, trying to stay sane and just survive until this thing is over and go back to the normal, which is playing music.
WYA: How do you believe the city has been handling the pandemic?
LP: I actually think that it's been good because I feel like—I know it's been so controversial, but I actually am glad the mayor has been so careful. A lot of people aren't following the rules, and a lot of people come here and don't follow the rules. I have a lot of friends in Las Vegas, because they just opened everything up so quickly, that got really sick and one of my good friends is in the hospital. That didn't happen as much here, I think, because of being extra careful with the live music and our venues being small. I feel like it's been as safe as possible and I appreciate it coming from where I'm coming from, since I have asthma and my husband has some of the same conditions as well. I feel like being safe was a good way to go, and I know it's bad in some aspects because everyone is suffering in different ways, and businesses are suffering. It's all been tough and, it's like, who would've thought anything like this would've happened? I'm just glad with the city and them being careful and keeping people from losing their lives.
WYA: How do you think you can move past all of the effects of the pandemic?
LP: Actually, my husband and I just decided to take things one day at a time because going too far into the future causes us to be afraid. And because it's so unknown, we just feel as though since things change so rapidly, we just decided on doing the one day at a time thing and trying to stay busy, take care of ourselves, and make sure we're surviving. We just like to think that there has got to be another side to this at some point, but we have great hope for when that happens and, again, just trying to take it day-by-day.
Life in New Orleans, as we know it, is slowly but surely coming back, and Lena Prima is not wasting any of her time by waiting and doing nothing. Following her advice on not looking too far into the future, and taking this day by day while following the rules, should be leading us towards the light at the end of the tunnel sooner than expected and with the greatest comeback New Orleans has seen. The important thing is to stay positive and stay safe. If you would like to support our city's magnificent musicians, please consider donating to the Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund.
A special thanks to the amazing Ms. Lena Prima for taking the time to discuss these matters with us and giving us an inside scoop on her way of coping during the pandemic. To learn more about Ms. Prima and her latest album, please visit lenaprima.com.