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Unplugged: The soul purpose

Well known for practicing law by day and music by night (and weekend … and vacation … ), Danielle Ponder’s life work reaches people in new ways—on both the stand and the stage. This time, it’s through (585) magazine.

First off, you are so cool. 

Oh, man! I’m really not. I’m an introverted nerd who did not leave the house today and barely made it here. But [laughs] on TV and in music and all that, it’s a different story.

In your Tedx Talk, you describe how being a musician and an attorney are symbiotic, and you couldn’t have one without the other. What was that like last summer, with no community through music?

It sucks! There has been a different type of community with the protests and some rallies, and so many young women activists I’ve become really close with, so that’s been a certain sense of community. But I’m definitely grieving the loss of the stage. It’s really heartbreaking. I’ve been performing for fifteen years, so to not be able to just step on a stage or play in a show has been really difficult.

Emotionally? Spiritually?

Yeah, I feel it deep in my heart. Like I’ve lost a friend. Yes, I can play my guitar. Yes, I can do a live at home. But, last night I was on my Instagram and I just started going through all of these shows that we’ve done, watching all these clips, and it was so depressing. But I couldn’t stop going down that rabbit hole. There definitely is a mourning for what was … you know, in 2019 [laughs].

If you could choose one venue to open for one night, when everyone’s tested and it’s 100 percent safe, where would you choose? 

Anywhere in the world? Or the country? Well, in Rochester … man, I have to give two answers. Probably the Eastman Theatre, and then my second answer would be the lawn of the MAG, where those steps are with that light installation. If it’s warm out. That would be a beautiful space, and we actually wanted to do something there earlier in the year. They’ve never had something like that before, and we talked about having a strings section, and it was going to be beautiful but because of the pandemic we couldn’t get approval to do it.

It’s really interesting that one of your choices is a place that isn’t even a venue. 

Yeah, I love doing that. In January we performed at a church, the oldest public building in Rochester, Two Saints Church on Fitzhugh, and it’s not really a concert venue, but … when I do shows here I like to give people a different experience because I’m performing here a lot. So to keep it kind of fresh, and to keep a novelty to it. In the world … I would go with Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. It’s a space I’ve always wanted to perform, it’s outside, beautiful, in nature. So, off the top of my list, I would say that. Or maybe like an old church in Italy. Or the Sistine Chapel [laughs].

Where do you grocery shop? 

I am obsessed with Wegmans, but I want them to do better with their racial justice policies and support for Black Lives Matter. But my niece got me a gift card from Wegmans for my birthday because she knows I’m obsessed. It’s just comfortable! It’s home. I know it. I know where to go. I know where my things are, the bread I’m gonna get, the sugar cookies I’m always gonna eat [laughs]. So I have to say Wegmans, East Ave.

Are there any specific things that come to mind in terms of what Wegmans could do to step up their involvement? 

I haven’t seen them show any outward support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and there was that controversy with them not allowing someone to wear a pin that said BLM. But I think all organizations should be looking at their organizational chart and asking themselves, “Where is diversity on our chart?” because diversity is usually on the bottom, but in most cases folks of color don’t have access to executive leadership positions. They should definitely hire a D&I [Diversity and Inclusion] person, someone to help them to ensure their policies are inclusive and they’re recruiting folks of color into higher leadership positions. And I think because of the type of revenue and money they make in this city … I strongly believe in reparations, and I strongly believe that corporations can assist with uplifting folks who are living in poverty. And I don’t think we see enough of that. We see piecemeal, like, okay, we’re giving free food to the Salvation Army, or x, y, and z. But how do we create job opportunities? How do we create financial support for small businesses? How do we make sure folks are receiving a living wage? So those structural changes are the things we need to push people to do. It’s the systemic, transformative things, as opposed to the small …  there’s a difference between social services and social change. Services is what we’re comfortable with, you know, let’s give a dollar to Foodlink. And that’s good, but we should be creating a society where we don’t need Foodlink anymore, where we don’t need food stamps because we’ve created a system that stands on the foundation of equity and economic equality. 

What do you consider to be the most powerful lyric you’ve ever written? 

I think it depends where I am. Right now for me the most powerful lyric is, “he just wants to love her but his love is no match for her pride.” So if I was in a different space in life, it would probably be a different pick.

Have you ever accomplished a New Year’s Resolution? 

[laughs] Uh, NOPE. I made one. I always have them, and I’ve never kept them. I’m not really a good commitment person. It’s not really my strong suit [laughs]. I’ve done a lot of things, and people will see that as, like, ambition, or goal oriented. But it’s also because I haven’t been committed to one thing that I can pop from one thing to the next. Oh, I’m gonna go to law school. I’ll be a singer. I’ll be in this band. I’ll go to Europe. I’ll come back here. So I’m really just moving around because it’s hard for me to stay still.

What is something that you find yourself googling, over and over? 

“Has anyone made it in the music business past the age of 38?” [laughs] Just did it last night. 

What do you find? 

Not much! [laughs] I’m constantly, like, I’ll see an artist who looks a little older, and I’ll immediately google their age, like, “Oh, she looks like my age. And she’s making it.” 

I guess especially for women. It’s no secret that they kind of age out of entertainment earlier than men do. Do you have a message for creative people around here who kind of feel like they have a ceiling that they can’t get past? 

Yeah, I feel that way. I feel like I’m interested in exploring other options for residency … that is my lawyer response to that question [laughs]. Here’s one thing I do know. As a musician, because of the digital world, you could potentially be successful anywhere. And if my music really took off without me moving, I’d be happy to stay here. Let’s say Beyoncé retweets my song. I could stay here for the rest of my life! Right? Because that’s gonna elevate me to a certain level. But if there’s no viral moment or some huge success while I’m here, I have to add on to my quest: relocating. So I’m considering that. 

Or if Beyonce moves here. 

[laughs] yes, then I’ll stay right here. 

What cities are on your map? 

Right now my list is Hamburg, Germany; Brussels, Belgium; Los Angeles; and Paris … I love Europe so much. It’s just, the music scene is a little easier to rise to the top in, because soul music is a little more of a novelty there, whereas here you can go to church any sunday and hear someone whose voice sounds like mine. Right? But over there the way that they value soul music … it’s a novelty. So it’s easier to get gigs there, and I’m really interested in seeing what it would look like to spend a lot of time there. 

Speaking of, why is soul your genre? 

I would say because of, you know, how I grew up. Where I grew up. And who my parents were, what their experiences were. My father’s a pastor, so gospel music was played in my house a lot, my brothers played a lot of funk and soul and hip hop. And I also loved blues, so I think soul music to me is a combination of gospel and blues and can also have a little bit of funk in it as well. So yeah, I think the colors I was given when I was younger just allowed me to paint what I have now. 


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