Lonnie Calvin ~ Miz Bonnie’s Band

Lonnie Calvin head shot

Lonnie Calvin

I was born strong. I Lived in a three-story walkup on Chicago’s south side with abusive parents (who themselves were victims of substance addiction), and my childhood was far from nurturing. I found sanctuary from my chaotic home life in the library at my local public school.

Through reading, I discovered a love for poetry, stories, Black history and cultures within and beyond the confines of Chicago. What my home lacked in encouragement and support, my books, photos, classrooms, and “old folks’ stories” sowed vital seeds of pride and knowledge, inspiring dreams and possibilities.

As a young adult, I chose a path that gave me a chance to help others, earning my Registered Nurse’s license after graduating from Chicago’s Kennedy-King College. With the tools for a new start in place, I relocated to Oakland, California, later working as a traveling nurse attending to critically ill children. Finding this new direction, I crisscrossed the country in service, only beginning to realize the possibilities and adventures I dreamed of as a child.

I soon set my sights on working internationally, accepting a position in Saudi Arabia. I spent more than a year in the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean. Spurred on by my encounters with new and various cultures, my path turned to Central America, where I taught science and English.

I later attended Stanford University’s Primary Care Program, graduated in 1995, and receiving my Nurse Practitioner credentials. This gave me the opportunity to work in a vast range of environments: hospitals, jails, clinics, home hospices and cruise ships.

By 2013, I had lived in four countries, and visited more than 40, before returning in the United States. Yet, despite coming home, something was still missing. I recalled the healing and refuge I found in my readings as a child, but with a successful career, the idea of possibly becoming a writer seemed too nebulous, too unrealistic and too late in my life to consider.

In recent years, I lost two of her dearest friends– one from complications of HIV, the other after a long, courageous fight against breast cancer. In mourning, I found comfort in remembering the stories of their lives. I recalled the unconditional love and support they provided, the missing pieces of a Chicago girl’s childhood. An awakening had begun to take place.

Lonnie Calvin Mz Bonnies BandInspired by my friends’ lives, I realized that the songs of my soul should not go unsung, and the strength and inspiration their love provided should never go unshared. Thus emboldened, I left my medical career to embark upon the uncertain ground of bringing my art to the public.

My family dynamic plays out in my first foray as a playwright, the 2013 musical comedy Miz Bonnie’s Band. At once, an engaging musical narrative and purging confessional, Miz Bonnie’s Band offers insights that helped me forgive, heal, and move forward in a way my medical career could not. My new career has begun.

My newest project is the Black Entertainers & History In Postcards (B.E. H.I.P.) Exhibit. A collection of nearly 600 postcards spanning three centuries of Black History, The B.E. H.I.P. Exhibit celebrates the pinnacle of Black history in America and beyond, from the elegantly simple portraits of the women of Africa, to historical heroines Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis, to groundbreakers and visionaries like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, to cultural icons Louis Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé Knowles — images that educate, empower, and expand the images of Blacks from the late 1800s to today.

The collection started in 1983 with the purchase of one postcard featuring Maya Angelou, a personal heroine and favorite author. By 1989, the collection grew to nearly 200 postcards, all displayed on a wall in my apartment. Soon, I noticed that every guest invariably migrated to the wall, spending long periods of time perusing, inquiring, and commenting on the collection. It seemed that everyone, regardless of race, age, and number of times they had seen the cards, connected with the images.

I felt compelled to share them with the general public, where they elicit discussions of places, people, literature, politics, cultures, and even deeply personal stories from new audiences. From powerful prints of people from the Americas, Caribbean, South Pacific, and Africa, to well-known artists, authors, athletes, entertainers, and historical leaders, the B.E. H.I.P. Exhibit depicts the summit of Black history and achievement— portraits of culture, heritage and pride. A tapestry of Black Entertainers & History In Postcards.

On Sunday, June 15, 2014, Miz Bonnie’s Band will again grace the stage at Celebrity Center International, 5930 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028

Lonnie Calvin collage A sneak peek of the B.E. H.I.P. exhibit will also be on display at this beautiful venue. Stay tuned for full exhibit location and dates.

To bring these and other projects to audiences across the USA and beyond, I have created the nonprofit W.E. H.A.V.E. (We Exhibit Historical Art, Valuable Entertainment) to solicit sponsorship for the tour fund. Stay tuned for tour dates.

What advice do I give to up-and-coming artists?  Take care of your mind, body, and spirit. You will be a better artist and person for doing so. Cultivate meaningful relationships, as you will need genuine supportive connections on your journey.

Work whatever job you need to, to save money to do what you want to do. Have money reserved for the lean times. Support other artists in general and humanity in particular. If you work for causes bigger than yourself, the Universe will provide for you. Continue to study, learn and grow as a person and artist. Bless and release negativity, it will not serve positive ambitions. Above all, treat others as you wish to be treated.

Lonnie Calvin