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INTERVIEW: Tonya Lewis-Taylor

Tonya Lewis-Taylor is a talented artist, generous philanthropist and ambitious businesswoman from New York City, who’s breakthrough single – Thank You – has rekindled an already impressive career in arts and ministry. With a brand new album on the horizon, BlackGospel.com decided to shine the spotlight on this phenomenal figure with little fanfare. who’s tireless work in schools and investment in ministry is making a difference like never before.
Christopher Heron: There’s an interesting story to your name, Tonya.
Tonya Lewis-Taylor
Tonya Lewis-Taylor
Tonya Lewis Taylor: This is a true story. I was named Tonya by the mother of Geraldo Rivera. He is my mother’s God-brother.  They haven’t connected in years, they lost contact years ago, but my grandmother and his mother were good friends, and when my mother was pregnant she told my mother to name me Tonya so she named me Tonya.
Christopher Heron: You’re the quintessential New Yorker. You’ve come to know so many New Yorkers over the years. So I’m curious to know who are three of your favorite celebrity New Yorkers you’ve come to know?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: Let me say this, one of my favorite people has to be Hezekiah Walker. He was the voice of our generation. I would say he’s definitely one.  I would also say Chris Rock.  He is so genuine and funny.  And then I would name rapper Jim Jones. He is an interesting character.  From day one, when we started doing our non-profit, stay-in-school concerts, encouraging kids to come to school, he was always available. He donated his time, his money.   He’s been really amazing, one of those people that’s under-the radar that you wouldn’t expect, but he has a great heart.
Christopher Heron: As a New Yorker, if you had to get from downtown to uptown Manhattan, what’s the way Tonya moves?  Does she take the cab, the subway, her car or go by foot?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: Nine times out of ten I’m going to drive. If I can’t drive, I’m jumping in a cab.  I do not like the subway system at all.  I don’t like being underground.
Christopher Heron: Finally, if someone is visiting NYC and they want to get their ‘church on’, name three churches where music, ministry and the word is second to none.
Tonya Lewis Taylor: You definitely have to go for the Love Fellowship Tabernacle with Bishop Hezekiah Walker.  If you want a different flair, a teaching ministry, you definitely have to visit Christian Cultural Center with Dr. A.R. Bernard.  And then for another different flair, you’ve got to go to Brooklyn Tabernacle. It’s three different types of getting your Church on, but they’re all powerful in their own way of delivering ministry.
Christopher Heron: You’re passionate about your non-profit organization. Could you share a little bit more about Entertainers 4 Education Alliance and the specific special program, I WILL GRADUATE Youth Development program. What spearheaded this project?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: My background is in PR and Marketing.  I worked with a lot of A-List talent.  I have a lot of relationships. So early on, I said, “We’re going to bring Kanye West to a school in Brooklyn. Let’s see if we can encourage the kids to stay in school.”  It was at the beginning of Kanye‘s career. He had this album called College Drop Out, and the initiative was to get people to understand that he wasn’t promoting dropping out of school. Instead, he wanted to let young people know he had this opportunity to pursue a dream and that’s the reason he dropped out, not because he was promoting dropping out.  The Principal of the school said to me one day, “Our attendance on Friday is about 50%”. The bottom line is that it was horrifying to me to find out that kids were not going to school, so that’s the birth of the organization.  
We didn’t develop an organization, it was about doing our part. We had all these human resources, so we thought this initiative might be a win-win.  So that’s how it started, since then we’ve been working with the Mayor’s office, we’ve had proclamations given, we run youth development programs, we have arts and education programs, everything from dancing to drum line to chorist, I mean you name it, we have it.  We have journalism programs, recording studio programs, the goal has always been how do we inspire this generation of kids to want to choose to be educated.  Part of the issue that we have and part of the narrative is the fact that our kids, this generation, gets everything so easy that they don’t aspire for more.
Christopher Heron: Do you see what you’ve done as an extension of ministry?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: Absolutely!  Everything I do is ministry because when you are called, everything that is connected to you becomes part of that calling.
Christopher Heron: Many may not know that you’ve worked with Fred Hammond and Donnie McClurkin.  How would you describe those two artists?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: Generals, that’s what I call them, they’re generals. {Laughs} They’re such perfectionists and quintessential performers and ministers of the Gospel that you have to take a page out of their book.
Christopher Heron: Did you always know that you would eventually go from the back stage to the front stage?
Tonya Lewis-Taylor
Tonya Lewis-Taylor
Tonya Lewis Taylor: My career started in music.  I toured over 50 countries, I used to sing background for people like Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige.  I was in gospel plays like Mama I Want to Sing and Gospel Is. I toured Europe and Japan.   I also looked for my own voice. I recorded a previous project, got signed and dropped probably within three months. So I had been doing stuff for a while as an artist but it didn’t happen for me at that time, it was more no’s than yes. When I came off the road, I got married and had children. I’ve been ministering in my church and still singing all over the place, but it was two years ago when I started getting this yearning with all this new music I had.  It’s so interesting that people think it just started for me now.  I was in front and then behind and now I’m back in front, again.
Christopher Heron: Why do you think this song – Thank You – had so much traction on radio and became your signature song?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: I think people just resonate with the fact that we know there is a God that’s looking out for us.  We understand that we could have met some really horrific fate had it not been for God on our side.  We’ve all been in situations where we’ve said, “Thank you Lord”.  I think people identify with the fact that we have to say thank you and I think that’s the reason why the song touches people. We know it’s nobody but the grace of God.
Christopher Heron: How excited are you about the new album you’re getting ready to release – I’ve Got To Win – and what will the people be experiencing when they finally hear the new album?
Tonya Lewis Taylor: Well, I’ve Got To Win is where I’m at right now in my life. The first album Delayed But Not Denied was really about me saying, “I’ve had some delays in my life but God didn’t deny me and I’m able to now pursue my dreams.” but I’ve Got to Win is different because it really sets up a story about how much you have to go through in order to reach your goals, that you’ve got to be psychologically ready to undergo every attack of the enemy.  
You have to be psychologically in tune with who your God is to press through adversity.  And so, I’ve Got to Win is me speaking to myself and everyone else saying, “no matter what, I’ve got to win.” It’s refocusing myself. I think that’s what people are going to get out of the music, how to refocus every day you get up, every day you’ve got to struggle.  You’ve got something that’s going to come your way to try to prevent you from getting your goal but you have to tell yourself, “no matter what happens I’ve got to win.”
For information on the CD Release Party, booking details and other press materials for Tonya Lewis Taylor and the new CD, I’ve Got To Win, visit her official website at www.tonyalewistaylor.com

About Christopher Heron