Zenobia was born in LA and raised in New York and says she is a singer first, a musician second. At the age of 5, Zenobia was singing in church, hoisted up by a sea of gospel singers so she could belt into the microphone. Zenobia taught herself how to play the piano that year and wrote her first song when she was 8. Zenobia has fond memories of gospel sounds in Grandma’s house. When Zenobia’s mother remarried, the house playlist was heavily influenced by the smooth sounds of jazz.
Even though Zenobia is a singer first, being a musician is a significant part of her life. Instruments have always been a passion. She came across a guitar that she was reluctant to purchase. A friend insisted that she get it. “You can get one or two songs out of every instrument,” her friend said. To this day, Zenobia has a large collection of instruments. Besides the guitar, Zenobia also plays the piano, drum and other percussion instruments.
Surfing and 7 Up
Growing up in LA, Zenobia was influenced by the Beatles. Zenobia and her schoolmates liked to surf and lived close to the beach. Some of her schoolmates were siblings of The Beach Boys. She started a band with her schoolmates and wrote and played the same style of music. Her band was called the 7 Ups, named after the drink.
Zenobia still likes to draw inspiration from the ocean when she can and takes her guitar down to the beach. She cautions others against doing the same because her guitars often get warped due to the sand and salt.
Growing up, Zenobia tried to get physically comfortable enough to write songs, attempting first the chair, then the floor, finally sitting on the edge of the bed. When she got older and moved on from the 7 Ups, her friends formed a second band. When the band first showed up at her house, they announced that they would start rehearsing. Zenobia remembers searching the house for them and to her astonishment found them in the bathroom. The old bathroom in her family’s house had a lot of tile and made for great acoustics. Zenobia had a lot of explaining to do when her family came home. Sound and acoustics have played a pivotal role in Zenobia’s natural singing process from that moment on.
A Writer’s Curse
“I never intentionally write songs, I just start strumming or playing the piano,” Zenobia said. “When writers start judging themselves, that is called ‘a writer’s curse.'” She elaborates on two curses that writers face. The first is, judging yourself. The second is when you hear something in the middle of the night and you tell yourself that you will remember it in the morning. “That’s the biggest lie you can tell yourself,” she said.
Zenobia’s songs have been the source of inspiration for numerous people that have worked with her. Will Lee, Bass Player, Singer on the David Letterman Show and member of the Fab Faux, said of her: “Zenobia has the unique perspective of being on both sides of the lens as both a performer and producer of music. Magic happens when working with her.”
Zenobia debuted in her first Broadway musical, HAIR, when she was 18. Later, she began producing commercials in New York. Working with celebrities was an exciting time in her life. She remembers opening up a magazine to an interview with Patti Austin, a famous singer who started in the jingle business. In the interview, Austin says, “People are not writing songs these days.” The next day Zenobia and Austin had a recording session and Austin explained what she meant by her statement. She meant that the poetry had left people’s lives.
Zenobia fully realized the weight of Austin’s statement when she was driving through Texas. Viewing all the empty houses she says, “People used to live, grow, have families, fall in love, get divorced in these now empty homes. What stories have they left behind?” Taking pictures of abandoned businesses and homes on her road trip, Zenobia realized how many stories each of these spaces hold. She has been taking inspiration from these untold stories and focusing on the essence behind song writing.
Zenobia also released a 12″ single, “In The Night,” on Streetwise Records and co-produced Billboard’s Dance-charted, “Living For The Weekend.” Her friend Paul Jabara asked her to record a song he wrote entitled “It’s Raining Men,” which as we all know became a disco hit. Zenobia was featured as an original Weather Girl. Recording artists Leon Ware (Elektra), The Ritchie Family (RCA) and Platinum Hook (Motown) have also recorded her songs. Zenobia has produced with singers Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson, Michael Bolton, Lou Rawles, BJ Thomas, Vickie Sue Robinson and directed Richie Havens, Ossie Davis, Busta Rhymes, Angie Bofill and Eddie Griffin for TV and radio commercials. She also sang on Grant King’s “Let Love Out,” “Bodies of Water” and debuted her own CD, “Home,” in 2000.
“Albuquerqueans love their music.” Zenobia says proudly. Zenobia says that the music industry here is supported by people who are devoted to the music scene. Surrounded by conductors, arrangers, composers and different genres like jazz, classical and pop in NYC, Zenobia didn’t think she’d find much of a music scene here. She found out otherwise.
“People here are married to the idea that music keeps you alive. People here live close together and work together to fulfill their dream of being musicians and having fun,” she said. Zenobia won the 2015 New Mexico Music Award of the Best Album of the Year for her CD “Resurrection.”
Zenobia is currently touring with her band, Jay Boy Adams, in New Mexico and Texas.